Participants discussing how to improve ICT use in agriculture
The discussions begun with the plenary session where participants explored ways and why ICTs need to be integrated into agricultural extension and advisory services; given that there is a rapidly changing global setting.
Benjamin Kwasi Addom, ICT4D Program Coordinator, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), emphasized that it has become imperative to spread extension messages in effective and rapid way in this era of pluralistic agricultural extension actors throughout the whole agriculture value chain.
All participants argued that all kinds of ICT tools can be used to influence farmers practices. To make this relevant, Addom added that there is a need to identify supporting thriving communication approaches.
In line with this, Raf Somers from Belgian Technical Cooperation (BTC) said that its critical to choose which type of ICT tool to be used depending on the step of delivering extension messages to farmers.
I believe that agricultural extension is about creating change at farm level, Somers explained. Can message texting alone create change on ground? I do not think so and thats why we need to identify which tool to use at each step.
Somers for instance noted that radio can be the right tool to be used in many African countries when creating awareness of what need to be changed at farm level while field extension workers should be the main targets at a step of creating change at farm level; hence another appropriate ICT tool can be identified to reach the extension workers.
From discussions generated during parallel sessions, it was revealed that ICT-enabled extension systems have really huge potential to act as a key force for transforming the agricultural sector and farmers lives by improving access to and sharing of information and knowledge.
Talking about Rwandas experience, Eugene Ndekezi, coordinator of Huguka asbl which is a farmer-based association dealing with agricultural and rural communication, noted that they realized a great change with a community multimedia center they established in Gisagara district, Southern province back in 2009.
Being established in a remote area where there was a low literacy level among population, Ndekezi said that people were not interested in the program in the beginning, but they managed to interest them and they now work with more than 2000 farmers who have been provided with basic skills in ICT literacy.
So far, we realized that over 60% of the farmers we trained in basics of ICT have already integrated ICTs into their activities, mainly the use of internet, pointed out Ndekezi, adding that many others managed to sell their produce through a web-based discussion forum and radio broadcasts while others managed to identify the right places where to conduct study visits thanks to the ICT-enabled platforms they put in place.
Having noted the opportunities provided by ICTs, the association continues to train more persons focusing on youth from the neighborhood. At least 100 farmers get trained in ICT usage every year free of charge.
Young people are tomorrows farmers and thats why we have to equip them with ICT skills a bit early, said Ndekezi.
Parallel sessions discussing and sharing ICT-enabled ways of how to get the maximum benefits out of agriculture continue until Thursday.