Nearly half of Zimbabwe's youth who have attained university education are involved in work in the informal sector a recent study conducted by Farmerline in partnership with Handei Communications has revealed. This partnership forms part of our strategy to scale across Africa and other developing countries. Continue reading
It was quite an experience speaking with lecturers and students of the Kwadaso Agricultural College (KAC), Kumasi. KAC is Ghana’s largest and Oldest Agricultural College established since 1922, with the responsibility of not only training officers for the cocoa sector, but also Extension Officers for the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA). The college's general agriculture is split into five departments: Animal Science, Crop Science, Extension and Economics, Home Economics and Agricultural Mechanization.
The Department of Economics and Extension has a mission of helping students to develop business strategies to be self-employed and job creators in Agri-business and impact the skills, knowledge and attitudes of best practices in Agriculture to both peasant and commercial farmers.
About three (3) meetings were arranged for us (Alloysius and Emmanuel) by Rebecca Peel (member of the Farmerline team ,a lecturer at the College, and a fellow at Engineers Without Borders). The first meeting was set up for the Part-time class on a weekend, whereas the other two meetings for the regular students and the Lecturers occurring the following week. We seized the opportunity to pitch our ideas for the first time to professionals who matter in the agricultural sector on the need to embrace technology in their day-day activities, and also present to them our proposed solution to the already identified problems in the sector.
Extension officers in Ghana have the responsibility to push new techniques and policies to the grassroot farmers. The very existence of the country's population is dependent on how effective farmers and extension officers use information available to them to maximise food production. Already, farmers rely on the tutelage of these officers to implement new farming techniques. The telepathy between the ordinary farmer and an extension officer cannot be overlooked whenever any new approach is to be introduced.
The officers informed us that most of the IT systems currently available in the agricultural sector were not doing well due to lack of support from the stakeholders of the sector, most importantly and often overlooked, the extension officers. The top hierarchy often overlooked their input whenever such a system was to be deployed. They were therefore glad to be part of the building of a platform that respected their inputs and needs.
It was shocking to realise that many of the Extension Officer we spoke with in our second meeting catered for over 2000 farmers, a figure which is greater than our initial hypothetical ratio of 1:1800. This painted a picture of how bad the situation actually is.
There was however a serious obstacle we observed after interacting with the officers – many of them were afraid of losing their jobs if they helped to push ICT into their scheme of work. We then knew there and then that, if the minds of these major implementers were not psyched up, any application deployed with their help was bound to fail. Well, after explaining to them how complementary our platform could be to their efforts, they then brought another problem to the fore – lack of ICT skills. This problem was actually expected, though.
Most of the officers also bemoaned the low level of education among the small-holder farmers, and wondered how the SMS could be effectively used. They later understood why the voice component of the Farmerline platform was crucial.
All in all, it was refreshing to ascertain the real problems and misconceptions being faced and/or held by the Extension Officers. We were therefore inspired and emboldened by this experience to fashion out plans of incorporating packages that would solve these problems.
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In subsequent publications, we will give a statistical overview of the questionnaires the extension officers completed for us.