News and knowhow for farmers

Information sharing pivitol in bolstering farmer yields

Mobile farmer photo by Ars Technica.jpg

Farm­ers read a text mes­sage on a mo­bile phone. Godan says ac­cess to in­form­a­tion can help farm­ers rise above poverty and hun­ger. Photo by Ars Tech­nica.

Global ag­ri­cul­ture stake­hold­ers have agreed to col­lect, pro­cess and make in­form­a­tion avail­able to farm­ers through tailored chan­nels to bol­ster food se­cur­ity and make the sec­tor an in­come source for the small-hold­ers.

Small scale farm­ing in Africa, and in­deed the de­vel­op­ing world, is for sub­sist­ence. However, a lim­ited num­ber of farm­ers are pen­et­rat­ing into com­mer­cial­ising small-scale ag­ri­cul­ture.

Global Open Data for Ag­ri­cul­ture and Nu­tri­tion (GODAN) Chief Ex­ec­ut­ive Of­ficer Andrè Laperrière said yield boost­ing re­searches and other pro­duct­ive ma­ter­ial are in­ac­cess­ible to farm­ers, who are still stuck in old meth­ods.

“Kenya’s neigh­bour, Ethiopia ad­op­ted a farm­ers’ auto­mated in­form­a­tion hot­line that is de­liv­er­ing crit­ical in­form­a­tion in real time. Given that the gov­ern­ment sup­ports the sys­tem, it is coun­ted cred­ible and farm­ers are feel­ing the change in in­creased pro­ductiv­ity,” the CEO said on the side­lines of the global con­fer­ence in Nairobi.

In avoid­ing the chal­lenge of in­form­a­tion dis­sem­in­a­tion through new media like the in­ter­net fail­ure, the 90 hot­lines serve the farm­ers dir­ectly in Tigrinya, Am­haric, and Oromo – Ethiopia’s main lan­guages.

The na­tional pro­duc­tion yield in­creased by more than 0.5mil­lion tonnes in the first year of im­ple­ment­a­tion of the pro­gramme.

Ac­cord­ing to the Guard­ian, a Brit­ish news­pa­per, the hot­line was ad­vert­ised by the gov­ern­ment on radio and by the end of three months after its launch in 2014, more than 1.5 mil­lion farm­ers had made 300,000 calls.

The Kenyan gov­ern­ment still re­lies of ex­ten­sion of­ficers, who and in­ac­cess­ible to the farm­ers. Ag­ri­pren­eurs rely on ex­ten­sion ser­vices from private com­pan­ies, which can charge more than Sh2,00 per ses­sion.

In­stead of hav­ing seg­men­ted sources of in­form­a­tion, GODAN seeks to make the data com­mon but also tailored to the re­spect­ive coun­tries to re­spond to the spe­cific chal­lenges that farm­ers face, he said.

“This is an ef­fort to bring to­gether col­lect­ive ac­tion in en­sur­ing food se­cur­ity is achieved by act­ive and vol­un­tary shar­ing of crit­ical data per­tain­ing to the field of ag­ri­cul­ture and nu­tri­tion,” Laperrière said later in a joint inter-min­is­terial state­ment.

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Kenya is already using vari­ous sponsored pro­grammes to reach out to farm­ers through mo­bile tele­phony short mes­sage ser­vices (SMS), radio and TV pro­grammes, but the mul­tiple chan­nels and sources of in­form­a­tion may con­fuse farm­ers, hence the im­port­ance of syn­chron­isa­tion. A cent­ral­ised dis­sem­in­a­tion sys­tem is key in meet­ing the vari­ous so­ci­etal seg­ments.

For the old farm­ers, dis­sem­in­a­tion of the in­form­a­tion in local ver­nacu­lar radio sta­tions may be the most ap­pro­pri­ate while so­cial media and other on­line re­sources would be­ne­fit the youth­ful farm­ers, Laperrière said.

Ac­cess to such in­form­a­tion could give farm­ers early warn­ing of a loom­ing cata­strophe like drought so they pre­pare well on how they will ir­rig­ate the crops dur­ing that time. They will also make other de­cisions like grow­ing drought tol­er­ant crops to cush­ion them­selves against losses.

Other is­sues that are crit­ical to farm­ers in­clude mar­kets, con­trolling pests and dis­eases, where to find qual­ity seeds, bet­ter crop ans an­imal hus­bandry ser­vices, among oth­ers.

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