Agriculture and ICT in Africa - the way forward
Agriculture is an important economic sector, since it provides income and food for a large segment of the population in developing countries. Youths and women go into agriculture now more than ever before because of its derivable benefits, which are job creation and food availability. Global attention is now turning to agricultural and rural development as a result of food price crisis. The widespread use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) is introducing a new level of interest and excitement when it comes to sharing information and doing business. It is new or advanced technologies that enhance the dissemination or creation of information and communication in any area they are needed. It is this that can capture the imagination of the youth and help transform agriculture and rural development into attractive and lucrative sectors for them. Despite this, it is still not perceived as an attractive industry for the younger population in many countries because of the crude way it is being practiced. Why?
The majority of farmers today are older. With a lack of youth to replace them the future of agriculture is uncertain, as some may say. Youth unemployment is a critical problem. Agriculture in the light of present judgment is the solution. It is therefore evident that a well-supported agricultural industry could present the ideal solution to most sophisticated and contemporary problems facing the youths and the world in general. This is on the condition that the sector is transformed in the eyes of the younger generation. It has to become attractive, viable and offer real opportunities.
The key is to uncover new ways of empowering young people, showing them the opportunities that exist and the important role they can play in its development. One means of achieving this is through the use of ICTs. These technologies are filtering down through every socio-economic segment, even in remote rural areas. This essay from a modest beginning told a story about Abigail, a 38-year-old woman from Eastern Nigeria who embraced ICT when it was introduced and channeled it to agriculture for the benefit of rural farmers. The story also provides difficulties she met; results achieved; how far the tools have contributed to increased yields or revenues of the business.
Abigail is truly the eyes through we have seen agriculture in modern times. She receives vital information on current agronomic practices through the farmer’s e-bulletin which she accesses on his GPRS enabled phone and her laptop with (Mobile Telecommunication Nigeria) MTN modem. She also receives hardcopy of related materials from local government. She accesses weekly market price updates providing us with essential information on the best time to sell our produce. She has organized series of workshops and programs targeted at youths and women towards increase in agriculture yield to rural farmers whose major focus is to improve agricultural information systems to their rural people including women, youth, young boys and girls using a variety of ICT tools such as mobile phones, community radio stations, world space satellite radios and internet. How did it all began?
That was in 2002 when phone was still a year old in Nigeria and very few persons access the Internet. She attended a workshop organized by the state government on the use of ICT in modern agriculture. Because phone was still a commodity that only the rich could afford and she was poor, she resorted to going to the city to make calls to these agents who taught her in the workshop. In time, they provided her with one. Then we had few telecommunication companies in Nigeria, but we had cyber cafés, so she browsed most times. She formed a group of young and women farmers in rural areas whose sole aim was to get up-to-date information on agriculture. In time, they raised money to purchase phones at a cheaper rate from the network providers and that was the beginning of the journey that lasted till this moment.
ICT and rural development which she was the originator in our area has largely targeted the youth, women and the entire community. She use a lot of web tools such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs, to source for agricultural and ICT related information beneficial to youth and women and disseminate them through appropriate channels. I am a witness to this?
What has she been accomplishing with the use of phone and Internet in the dissemination of these information to farmers. A very great deal has been accomplished. She is giving life to agriculture when some farmers today likewise feel that much of the world is out of touch with agriculture and the important role of farmers. Here in Nigeria, agriculture is still an old story to many ears. She send an average of 100 text messages to farmers inside and outside the group she formed for this purpose, providing them update on cost of fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, marketable product available, means of preservation and likely time to push product into the market. More to this is that improvements in farming efficiency at first began slowly and now it has accelerated. At first because of illiteracy, poverty and ignorance every step we took was traumatic for hundreds of families, and the process still continues for some, but we are all in our humble village grateful to the reality and face she provides to agriculture. A look at how progress in farming has affected local people can help one understand this achievement.
In all modesty, a productive sector depends on a fruitful and fair interaction between the diverse actors – communication and information flows are critical to this process. The technology and socioeconomic context of the group determines the selection of ICT in terms of content, media and form of communication. Harmonizing existing information sources and making information accessible in appropriate formats have made important gains. Provision of ICT through this means have helped farmers in isolated rural areas coordinate the information in a central, provide farmers information on input supplies and prices of cash crops as well as more general information on transport.
Admittedly, in Nigeria, ICT infrastructures are still limited even though mobile telephone penetration in rural areas has been remarkably great. ICT awareness as well as skills for the rural youth, boys and girls and even the educated are still low. But ours is different. Abigail is passionate about these things and look forward to using it to transform the lives of the teeming youths and women. As a result of her work on ICT development programs, she was selected to participate in 2010 Community Solutions Program, a professional training program for global community leaders working on improving the face of agriculture in rural areas.
Lately, she is working on so many projects in developing regions and use ICT to facilitate contact between sellers and buyers, promote agricultural exports, facilitate online trading, and make producers aware of potential market opportunities including consumer and price trends in every regional market markets. Now we are becoming a popular voice whenever agriculture is being discussed. We don’t consider the cost because we make our gains. Abigail was a prayer answered to many of us rural farmers.
Integration of new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are rapidly transforming the agricultural extension in rural area. The ICT enabled extension systems are acting as a key agent for changing agrarian situation and farmers’ lives by improving access to information and sharing knowledge. ICT based agricultural extension brings incredible opportunities and has the potential of enabling the empowerment of farming communities. Extension practitioners are excited to experiment innovative ICT initiatives. Experiences on ICTs for agricultural purposes are showing encouraging results and also complementing conventional extension communication methods. Thanks to Abigail. I still recommend in the light of present judgment that more innovative should be introduced; more Abigail should be encouraged to make agriculture atrtive to all. One and all, food will be made available to the entire world.
Reaping the benefits of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in agriculture, remain an ongoing challenge. The range of agricultural and economic benefits is wide and includes better management, better and timely information accessing and dissemination, better and integrated production planning, monitoring and follow up, access to the latest results of research and more. With more Abigail, this challenge will be met. There is hope.