A recent study by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) shows that 70 per cent of small scale farmers across the world still rely on outdated farm management practices, which vastly lower their production capacities every season.
The research observed that most farmers have destroyed their soil structures through the use of improper techniques and most use inappropriate seeds, others implement recycled agricultural practices that are not only unproductive but also a threat to the environment.
The report urged stakeholders in the agricultural sector to encourage farmers to embrace technology in their agricultural activities and develop workable channels to disseminate agricultural information to them.
It is perhaps on this backdrop that the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) has embarked on a mission to digitize its research contents and fact sheets on agricultural practices, a, move that is expected to help more farmers access relevant information.
This plan comes at a time when lack of information is being blamed for poor agricultural production amongst small holder farmers in the continent. Initially, such documents were only available in print, with only few copies availed to a few government libraries.
This made it difficult for most farmers to get viable information that could help them improve their farming techniques.
KALRO’s e-repository brings together all information from studies that the agricultural institution has done, making it a perfect benchmarking platform for researchers and policy makers to identify research gaps and innovations needed to improve agricultural productivity.
The system also incorporates a ‘Farmers corner’ which contains repackaged information in form of pamphlets, brochures and fliers that have viable information ranging from seeds crops, farm technology, farm management, livestock breeds, diseases, pests: causes, symptoms and control.
David Mbithi, KALRO’s Research Officer, says that access to information can cushion the continent from food shortage.
“Some of innovative farming options that can redeem the continent from threats of food insecurity lie in academic papers. E-Repository’s role is to push those findings and information to farmers for implementations,’’ he said.
But while the initiative is a right step towards reaching farmers, the effort is a drop in the ocean considering that internet connectivity and affordability is still in its infancy, especially in rural Kenya.
40 percent of the small holder farmers that KARLO’s digital tool targets have been defined by the World Bank as extremely poor and live on less than $1.25 a day. This is a group that has to choose between buying food or spending upto Sh2 per minute, slow internet speeds notwithstanding, to download and print information from online databases.
A 2012 study by AGRA on effective media channels to reach most farmers in the continent favored radio, which had a reach of 80 per cent.
The use Agricultural Extension officers was found to be the most productive means, although high maintenance costs and a low number professionals made it inappropriate.
The study also urged agricultural stakeholders, especially researchers, innovators and the media to invest in mobile phone applications if they intend to reach most farmers.
A report by the Communication Authority indicated that by September 2014, there were 32.8 million mobile subscribers in Kenya, representing 80.5 percent of the country’s population.
Innovative digital approaches that target reaching audiences using mobile phones, among other technologies, can help improve the dissemination of information. A project by the Bolivian government to help farmers access information is proof that proper farming knowledge can enhance economic opportunities through increased market penetration, improved negotiating powers and better production methods.
Considering the poor infrastructure, high poverty levels and high illiteracy levels in rural Bolivia, the body set up rural information centres, installed computers and dial boxes to help farmers contact extensional officers. It also leveraged on high mobile phone penetration in the country to set up special SSD codes where farmers received and send farming queries to specialists.
The project has been a success with 40 per cent of the country's work force now getting involved in agricultural
The KALRO repository can be accessed through www.kalro.org