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Monday, 31 January 2011 15:19

Using ICTs to Bridge the Agricultural Extension Gap and Improving Market Access for Rural Farmers in Nigeria: A Practical Approach

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By Anthony Itodo Samuel from Nigeria: West African Regional Winner of the CTA ARDYIS Essay contest

Nigeria’s economy is overwhelmingly agrarian. In 1999 70% of Nigeria’s labor force was involved in agriculture. In 2009 agriculture accounted for 33.4% of Nigeria’s GDP, while 70% of the population lived below the poverty line in 2007.

itodo samuel anthony

According to the UN, 51.7% of Nigeria’s approximately 154.7 million people are rural dwellers , with about 60% of Nigerians under age 35,  implying that agriculture potentially is a youth dominated endeavor and the challenges of agriculture and by extension to a large extent rural development are a huge concern to young Nigerians.

Agriculture in Nigeria is mainly rural and is characterized by low productivity which can be ascribed to obsolete farming practices, the challenge of accessing credit for commercial agriculture, weak rural infrastructure, a constraining land tenure system, poor government rural development policy conception, poor implementation of viable policies, and ineffective extension services and the challenge of accessing markets for agricultural products.

In the context of this essay, agricultural extension is conscious use of communication of information to and from farmers, involving agricultural policies; programs, research and education to help farming stakeholders (farmers, markets, and government and development partners) identify and analyze agriculture production problems, identify opportunities for improvement and enable formulation of sound opinions and good decisions. Market access refers to information on the location of profitable markets and entry requirements.

ICTs AND AGRICULTURE IN RURAL NIGERIA

Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) refer to technologies that facilitate the creation, processing and transfer of information across space and time . ICTs enable performing tasks quickly, efficiently and comprehensively, facilitating the flow of large volumes of information to a wide audience across numerous geographical locations.

Though ICTs are not a panacea to agricultural and rural development, they have the potential of bridging the information gap for rural farmers with respect to innovative practices, government policies, credit facilities, accessing markets and acting as an effective tool for policy advocacy.

SETTING THE FRAMEWORK FOR EFFECTIVE ICT USE

The challenge thus is how can we use ICTs to improve agricultural extension to rural dwellers and improve access to markets? To get this right we need to put in place an effective framework, in terms of appropriate policies and programs that will harness the already well-known potentials of ICTs.

  • A Rural ICT Development Policy: Local governments should ensure the provision of basic ICT facilities for communities within their jurisdiction. With the usually small population of most local communities, even a couple of computers can service their ICT needs. Local governments and private organizations can partner to provide ICT Centres (which can utilize the wireless internet services provided by telecoms companies) for rural communities.
  • NYSC ICT Volunteer Group: The NYSC  can be an effective tool for fostering ICT development in rural communities as it can provide the man-power and high level competence required to manage ICT centres and train locals on ICT use for agricultural development purposes. Besides, due to its wide coverage of rural areas, networking between NYSC groups in various communities can foster rural-urban communication, extending information to rural farmers and providing relevant market access information.

The NYSC-ICT Volunteer Group will be trained on ICTs and how to use them for relevant extension servicing and sharing market information. The proposed ICT centres can be managed by trained NYSC ICT volunteers, who in turn will transfer skills to their communities via a ‘train the trainer’ approach, to ensure sustainability.

  • Young Farmers Association: Formation of young farmers clubs in secondary schools will stimulate the interest of youths in agriculture. By exposing students to innovative agricultural practices and agriculture potential information via mechanisms like slide show presentations and interactive internet programs we can raise a generation of farmers that will be more willing to use ICTs to create and utilize extension information and improve market access.
  • Community Focus Group

A coalition of the student farmers, the NYSC ICT Volunteer Group and cooperative farmers in communities will result in focus groups. Focus groups can promote agricultural extension by sharing experiences and communicating these to government extension and policy implementation bodies, via the internet. A network of focus groups through the NYSC ICT initiative will also facilitate market information.

  • Direct Connection of Rural Centres with Extension Agencies and Markets

The government should ensure a policy where direct communication exists between the various agricultural extension agencies, policy implementation agencies, credit institutions, prospective agricultural markets and the ICT centres in rural areas. Through this market-farmer-extension service interaction, high yielding input and innovative practices can be communicated to farmers, and major agricultural markets can inform farmers on required product specifications and even reach joint venture partnerships that will allow major buyers to finance commercial farming.

ICT CONTENT AND USAGE FOR EXTENSION SERVICE AND MARKET ACCESS PURPOSES

Having established a platform for successful and sustainable ICT use, it is pertinent to discuss the content of such schemes to ensure ICTs are truly relevant to farmers in the areas of bringing extension services to them and exposing them to markets for their products.

  • Comprehensive Online Data Base: The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development need to create a comprehensive information data base that will contain names, phone numbers, emails, contract addresses, websites, etc. of all its agricultural extension service centres. Then to this database also, focus groups within communities, relevant NGOs, credit houses and global development partners can add similar information. This will not only facilitate communication between government agencies but also speed up intra focus group, focus group-relevant agencies communication.
  • Registration of all Cooperative and Focus Groups Online: A website can be designed or a portal created on the earlier mentioned website for the registration of all the NYSC ICT volunteer groups, ICT centres, Young Farmer Associations and Integrated Community Focus Groups according to their states and local government areas for easy navigation. This can be used to foster inter-group communications on productive and practical practices in communities as well as market trends and needs.
  • Online Information Processing and Project Monitoring: By registering farmer groups as cooperatives in online accounts on assistance program websites, farmers can access agricultural assistance information, fill relevant forms and sign for items e.g. fertilizers collected. This method will remove bureaucracy and allow government to easily monitor implementation.
  • Do-It-Yourself Manuals: After gathering community specific needs, agriculture development stakeholders can make ‘do it yourself manuals’. A manual for poultry farming can contain information on rearing space, vaccination, disease warning signs and treatments and possible markets. These manuals should be accessible online or stored in CDs forms. Podcasts can also show in video forms agricultural practices for easy learning. This is extending information to farmers and exposing them to markets.
  • Online and Virtual Learning: From any where in Nigeria, through the ICT centres, farmers can register for online courses that will give them the technical knowledge on certain agricultural practices as well as business management skills like book-keeping. Virtual learning using simulators can also enhance managerial and administrative skills.
  • Geo-Mapping: To enhance productivity, the government with its ally agencies can carry out community land mapping in all local governments in Nigeria to identify the potentials of lands in various communities with respect to their suitability in certain crop and livestock production and post such on a website where they can be accessed. Information from owners who want to lease their lands can also be collected and posted online to facilitate commercialization of agriculture.
  • Market-Mapping: Major markets exist for agricultural products in Nigeria, e.g. Kano has a big and profitable market for cashew, groundnut and cotton. A market mapping also needs to be done to identify major markets for various products. Also information on the required processes for registration to access certain markets, especially in exportation need to be put online for farmers to access.
  • Ask the Expert: This extension service method has been used in countries like India, Uganda and Japan. With a feedback platform on websites, comments can be posted for expert advice. Farmers can use internet blogs to share their experiences in their respective communities for the benefit of other farmers. This changes the face of agricultural extension from a ‘top to bottom’ approach to one that is two-way.
  • E-Commerce: ICT has the potential of allowing farmers sell products online via the ‘ordering’ system, even from the convenience of their villages. This will require adequate registration of farmers and their products that will ensure that products ordered online can be traced to a particular farmer to maintain transaction integrity.

CONCLUSION

The potentials of enhancing agricultural extension services and improving market access for rural youth farmers abound with the use of ICTs. Harnessing these potentials however, requires an appropriate framework for ICTs utilization. This framework involves appropriate government policies, formation of NYSC ICT volunteer groups, stimulating youth interest via the Young Farmers Association, integrating communication between focus groups in various communities and relevant government extension service and policy implementation agencies.

 

References

  1. Source: Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_nigeria)
  2. Source: Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigeria#Economy) - (accessed August 14, 2010 at www.ifpri.org/publication, nsspbp07.pdf)
  3. Source: www.cnn.com/nigeria/index.html (assessed August 14, 2010)
  4. ICTs in this context include traditional forms like radio, TVs and the print media, and new forms like phones, PDAs, computers, softwares, GIS, GPS and the use of the internet.
  5. The National Youth service Corp (NYSC) scheme in Nigeria is a one year program that compulsorily mandates Nigerian graduates of tertiary institutions to serve the nation for one year. The scheme is divided into three overlapping batches separated by three months. To foster rural development, 80% of corps members are posted to rural areas, most of them to serve as teachers in secondary schools. The NYSC currently have volunteering programs in MDGs, Awareness Creation and HIV/Aids Awareness. It is proposed as a tool here because most tertiary institution graduates are familiar with the use of ICTs, are respected by communities thus can lead an ICT drive and are also easy to train with respect to ICT technicality and agricultural information use.

More information:
- Essay contest announcement document
- Information on finalists
- Announcement of winners following oral presentations in South Africa
- Other best essays and documents

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DISCLAIMER

Best essays of the CTA ARDYIS essay contest have been selected by an independent panel of judges. The views expressed in this information product are those of the authors.

Last modified on Monday, 07 February 2011 11:12