Sharing information with farmers bolsters production

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 other 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.

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture Willy Bett said the sector accounts for more than 70 per cent of jobs and livelihoods in Africa, therefore, injecting critical information to the small-holders would cure poverty.

Data is critical for Africa to realise agriculture’s full potential as the surest path to an inclusive economic transformation, Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa President Agnes Kalibata 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.

The conference, which brought together more than 1,000 global delegates, took place when Kenya is stuck in a food crisis, as maize stocks run dry after a five month-long dry spell.