With mobile market penetration in Africa expected to reach 60% among the continents one million people in 2012; and with the significant rise in Ghana’s tele-density (88.6%), it is important that the continent’s governmental and Non-governmental organizations promote the utilization of mobile phones and it’s diverse applications to propel the continent’s strives at achieving its Millennium development goals (MDG’s).
In a bit to augment the contributions made towards the development of the Agricultural Industry in Ghana, the Savannah Young Farmers Network (SYFN), a farmer based Non-governmental organization has formulated and is in to the implementation of the Audio Conferencing for Agricultural Extension (ACE) service in some farming communities in Northern Ghana to provide small holder farmers with participatory, demand driven and market oriented Agricultural Extension service.
STRUCTURE OF THE TECHNOLOGY
The initiative employs the services of Audio conferencing (a VoIP application) to network farmers with Agricultural extension officers, researchers, agronomist, veterinary officers etc. These technical officers provide the much needed Agricultural extension services to farmers and other Agricultural value chain actors to enhance agricultural productivity. As a mobile application, Audio conferencing is setup for Agricultural extension services with the aid of a mobile phone, a mobile network service, the activation of an audio conferencing system and a portable loud speaker to enhance the communication flow.
As an ICT driven methodology for the provision of participatory and demand driven Agricultural Extension service, this unique extension delivery approach is facilitated by Community Agricultural Information (CAI) officers who provide diverse technical support to farmers and Agricultural technical support officers to promote capacity development and knowledge transfer .This ICT driven approach to Agricultural Extension Service delivery is therefore a private –public partnership approach in enhancing the provision of demand driven and Market oriented Agricultural Extension Services to equip farmers and other Agricultural value chain actors with the desired capacity development to increase productivity for an enhanced household and national food security.
Farmers through the initiative receive technical guidance on: good agronomic and animal husbandry practices, post-harvest management, climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives, Agribusiness planning and Management, Market access etc.
IMPACT OF THE TECHNOLOGY ON FARMERS PRODUCTIVITY
Owing to the provision of these technical Agricultural Advisory Service, the yields of the commodities produced by the farmers has increased significantly with an average yield of 1.83 Mt/Ha for Maize, 2.71Mt/Ha for Rice and 1.90Mt/Ha for Soybeans which has immensely increased the profitability levels of farmers. This has increased the household and national food security; as witnessed in the proliferation of Buffer stock facilities dotted across northern Ghana.
Following the increase in crop yield, it has culminated in to an increase in the farming population with many youth taking to Agriculture as a livelihood due to the immense technical support offered to farmers and other Agricultural value chain actors.
Furthermore, the Audio conferencing for Agricultural Extension (ACE) services by the SYFN has resulted in to the development and strengthening of Agricultural value chains as various Agricultural value chain actors are been provided with a wide range of Agricultural Advisory services aimed at developing and strengthening Agricultural value chain relationships. As a result of this capacity development, farmer’s productivity has been enhanced as they have timely access to the production resources needed to enable them increase productivity. The Agricultural Extension Services provided via Audio Conferencing has also provided farmers and other value chain actors the opportunity to interact with a wide range of Agricultural value chain facilitators and specialist who offer them valuable capacity development to boost their Agricultural productivity.
The provision of Market Oriented Agricultural Extension services to farmers and other Agricultural value chain actors has resulted in to improved market access as farmers receive up to date market information on various Agricultural commodities. It has also provided other value chain actors e.g: input dealers, mechanized service providers etc the enabling environment to improve upon their market access; owing to the enhanced value chain relationships established by the activities of the initiative.
Following the delivery of demand driven Agricultural extension services via Audio Conferencing, many farmers under the Savannah Young Farmers Network (SYFN) are now able to plan and manage their Agribusinesses; thus enhancing their ability to take to Agriculture as a business. With this capacity development, they are able to establish many more enterprises across the Agricultural value chain. The intervention made by the initiative has therefore nurtured entrepreneurs and created jobs for the larger masses.
Owing to the growing threat by climate change to Agricultural productivity, the Audio conferencing for Agricultural extension service has developed the capacity of farmers on the production and use of Biochar as an organic fertilizer to reduce the increasing use of inorganic fertilizers; which continue to weaken the ability of the soil to support plant growth. This intervention has led to farmers adapting climate change sensitive approaches to Agricultural production; thus promoting the mitigation of the effects of climate change on Agriculture and the environment at large.
In the execution of this initiative, the following are the valuable lessons that have been learnt which will be of relevance to other farmer organizations as well as the delivery of Agricultural Advisory Services in Ghana and Africa at large:
The mobile phone with its diverse applications can be a unique methodology to enhance Agricultural extension service delivery for the benefit of the increasing farmer population in Ghana to enable it meet the Millennium Development Goal of improving access to information for the enhancement of the incomes of farmers and SME’s.
Also, with the provision of Market Oriented Agricultural Advisory Services to the 70% to 90% of small holder farmers in Ghana, they will be able to increase their productivity and take to Agriculture as a business.
Furthermore, many farmers are very much willing to contribute in financing the cost of Agricultural extension services to enhance the efficiency of the service delivery in order to equip them with the requisite knowledge and skills to increase their productivity. Finally, many farmers are very much interested in Participatory and demand driven Agricultural Extension services; which they consider relevant in increasing their productivity.
In the course of implementing the initiative, it has been faced with the challenge of: inadequate volunteers to serve as Community Agricultural Information (CAI) officers, periodic poor mobile network connectivity and inadequate Agricultural extension officers to meet the increasing demand for Agricultural Advisory services. These challenges have been addressed through the use of National service personnel as CAI officers, the use of MTN mobile network which has quality service and Networking with Agricultural officers from various organizations to offer farmers with the desired Agricultural advisory service.
In conclusion, the interventions made by the Audio Conferencing for Agricultural Extension (ACE) services has re-echoed the need for the promotion of public-private partnership in utilizing ICT tools/ methodologies for the delivery of participatory, demand driven and Market oriented Agricultural Advisory services in order to propel Agricultural development in Ghana and Africa at large.
Writer: Moses Nganwani Tia, Savannah Young Farmers Network (SYFN), Tamale