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ICTs and agricultural extension services

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     In Summary

  • ICTs are very useful in agricultural extension and advisory services and in facilitating reaching out to family farmers
  • Extension and Advisory services play a crucial role in promoting agricultural productivity, increasing food security, improving rural livelihoods
  • How have ICTs been applied in extension services

Most of the family farmers in developing countries live rural areas and are in most cases divorced from technology and vital agricultural support services needed to carry out farming activities.

Extension and advisory services are relevant to smallholder farmers, who remain the bedrock of the agricultural and food supply chains in developing countries (Francis, 2014).

Providing farmers with (i) timely and relevant information; (ii) access to credit; and (iii) better market prices could go a long way in addressing global poverty and improving agricultural productivity.

The aspect of timely and relevant information, especially with the role of Information Communication and Technology to connect farmers with the information they need has received much attention in the last decade.

There is a growing body of experience providing lessons on factors required for successful ICT applications in agricultural extension and on how ICT can lead to beneficial behavior change amongst poor farmers (Bell, 2016).

The e-agriculture platform, the ictupdate and many others have collected the various cases where ICTs have been applied within agriculture.

The role of agricultural extension

According to IFPRI, agricultural extension (also known as agricultural advisory services) plays a crucial role in promoting agricultural productivity, increasing food security, improving rural livelihoods, and promoting agriculture as an engine of pro-poor economic growth.

Yet, the specific roles of agricultural extension services were enumerated here defined extension as aiming to,

  • Improve the wellbeing of individuals and communities
  • Change production systems so that they improve rural livelihoods and sustain the resource base
  • Improve agriculture and the social, economic and political status of rural communities
  • Improve the wellbeing of farm families
  • Improve productivity and livelihoods for farmers
  • Increase and improve farmers’ incomes and productivity on a sustainable basis
  • Enhance farmers’ production
  • Attain higher levels of efficiency in the farm enterprise
  • Attain food security and improve rural livelihoods.

For a comprehensive study of the role and functions of agricultural extension, see an elaborate review here.

However, extension alone cannot lift millions out of poverty unless there is the right mix of policies, technologies, and market opportunities –laments Fancis (ibid).

ICTs in extension work

There has been a major shift in modernizing extension and advisory sevices and key studies were done by Bell (2011) and Vignare (2013). Mark Bell and Judith Payne (2011) provides an interesting mapping of ICT options to extension functions, see the except below

Information Communication Technology and Tools

Extention Function  Radio TV & Video Cell phones  Feature & Smart Devices Computer & Internet
Identifying farmers' problems and opportunities – What do they need and want?
Diagnose problems Some potential if dealing with general problems, or if capacity for interaction and expertise available Visuals are very helpful
as “seeing is believing.”
Even better if combined
with ways to receive
feedback. 
Some potential if farmers can call or text in and sufficient expertise is available.  Additional potential to a simple cell phone as it enables web or App access to special diagnostic tools.  Good comprehensive diagnostic tools are available
Collect information Some potential if capacity for interaction    Can use for data collection.  Good for data collection with GPS.  Some potential if internet available.
Promoting behavior change – What is practical and relevant to meet the needs?
Raise aware of general opportunities or needs ; convince farmers to try something new Very good especially with persuasive programming Visuals are usually very helpful as “seeing is believing” Is an option if users are registered to receive such messages (SMS) Is an option if users are registered to receive such messages (SMS, email) Is an option if users are registered to receive such messages (email)
Provide specific information needed for change. What is involved? What are the benefits/ Demonstrate or train? Some potential – but limited information delivered. Can be enhanced with call in. Good option as “seeing is believing Potential if farmers can call or text in and sufficient expertise is available Additional potential to a simple cell phone as it enables web access and plays videos.  Good option for intermediaries to seek information and videos. 
Facilitate access to credit and inputs Can be used to inform of available services, but one-way communication Can be used to inform of available services, but one-way communication Mobile banking and negotiate directly with the suppliers Mobile banking and negotiate directly with the suppliers Mobile banking and negotiate directly with the suppliers
Link farmers to markets Good for providing general price reports   Access to price information (call in, subscription) Can bring potential buyers and producers together; access price information Can bring potential buyers and producers together; price info.
Collect feedback – How can each step be improved?
Collect and respond to farmer feedback Good if producers can call or text and sufficient expertise is available Good if producers can call or text and sufficient expertise is available Some potential if farmers can call or text in and sufficient expertise is available Good option for intermediaries to seek information (if optimized for smart devices) Good option for intermediaries to seek information
Assist with business planning Some potential Some potential   Simple farm management “Apps”; record keeping farm management tools; record keeping

Source.Mark Bell and Judith Payne (2011)

Commonly applied technologies in extension services

  • Radio and Television - Radio and Television have played, and still continues to play, an important role in agricultural extension and in getting farmers in touch with key services. The Farm Radio international has played a key role in this regard and has documented many such use cases. Another example is the African Farm Radio Research Innitiative (AFRRI).
  • Videos - Videos also continue to be useful in extension services, for example Access Agriculture offers an internet-based platform for agricultural research and development (R&D) staff and other stakeholders including farmer organisations. They have branded this service AgTube. Another example is Digital Green in India which trained rural communities to produce videos by farmers, of farmers, and for farmers to exchange best agricultural practices to boost farm productivity and improve nutrition
  • Mobile phones - There are many examples of the use of mobile phones in agriculture, the e-agriculture platform constantly cover these examples.Mobile phones either use voice, text or photos within the farmer/extensionists interaction. There is a need to formulate the right messages for and with farmers, addressing illiteracy and empowering farmers to use mobile phones can lead to increased adoption of new technologies and improved practices.

ICTs and strengthening linkage between extension, research and farmers

ICTs have a possibility of strengthening the linkage between extension, research and farmers. This weak linkage between the tripartite parties can be strengthened by technology. The eAfghan Ag was developed with this objective in mind - eAfghan Ag "provides credible relevant information to those helping farmers in Afghanistan".

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