Submitted by Darlington Kahilu on Saturday, 12th March, 2011 — Blog entry
However, this will be a thing of the past as Zambian farmers will soon be using their mobile phones to send questions on the problems they face in carrying out their farming activities and receive answers within shortest time possible.
With financial and technical support from the International Institute of Communication for Development (IICD), the department of National Agricultural Information Services (NAIS) is developing an Internet based platform where farmers will be able to use mobile phones and send questions on the most pressing problems they are faced with in their farming activities to NAIS and receive appropriate answers within the shortest time possible.
This SMSize platform allows farmers to send their questions on mobile phones in form of SMS to the platform and receive answers to their questions.
The platform will be accessed by NAIS programme producers and agricultural specialists and other identified stakeholders so as to give appropriate answers to the farmers’ questions.
Once finalized, the system will help improve the feedback system between farmers, programme producers and the agricultural specialists in the Ministries of Agriculture and Cooperatives and Livestock and Fisheries Development and other relevant agricultural institutions in the country.
Each SMS on the system will cost 900 Zambian Kwacha and this will reduce the current expenses farmers are incurring to post or send their discussion report forms for possible solutions to their farming problems.
Extension and information service provision plays an important role in agricultural development in any country. In recognition of this fact the Zambian government has since independence in 1964, made an effort to establish an effective extension and information system in the country. The overall objective of this information provision service is to provide information to farmers so that they can make informed decisions that will improve their production and productivity in order to reduce poverty through income generation and food security (Ministry of Agriculture Food and Fisheries, February 2001). The extension-information provision has been done through person-to-person (farmer-extension officer) contact and mass media. The extension officers are the front line implementers of the extension system of MACO. However, these officers are few, outstretched and de-motivated. It is currently estimated that there is an average of one officer to 1,000 farmers (National Agricultural Information Services, September 2002). This, coupled with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, has led to limited person-to-person extension and information service. Notwithstanding, extension officers of the Department of Agriculture still remain a critical information link between researchers and farmers.
Zambia has quite a long experience in agricultural information delivery services through the use of mass media such as radio/television broadcasts and printed materials including newspapers in parallel with the mainstream extension services. Broadcasting services of agricultural radio programs targeting local small-scale farmers was initiated as early as the mid-1960s with assistance from UNESCO. A number of radio listening groups called ‘Radio Farm Forum Groups” were set up in rural communities all over the country and they were encouraged to listen to the radio programs with the motto of ‘Listen, Discuss and Act”. Since then, the Zambian Government has continued to produce agricultural radio programs through NAIS, although direct assistance of the Government to the listening farmer groups, such as free provision of radio sets and batteries, has largely been withdrawn. NAIS also remains engaged in producing agricultural TV programs, publishing of magazines, newsletters and posters to provide the farming communities as well as other stakeholders with various kinds of agricultural information.
Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 1: Figure 1: Basic Element/Components in an Agricultural Extension System
The current extension methodology, Participatory Extension Approach (PEA), is about the improvement of the information services to the farming community and the extension officers in particular.
At Radio Farm Forum (RFF) level, farmers gather and listen to agricultural technical information that is broadcasted on radio. After the broadcast, the RFF members discuss the topic which they have listened to and relate it to their local situation. As a group, they ask each member how well he or she has understood the broadcast.
After the discussions, farmers feel in a feedback form commonly referred to as a proceedings and discussion report. The main features of this form are: Name of the forum, district, province, date of broadcast, subject/topic of broadcast, main points raised on the programme, questions raised by members on the subject of broadcast, decisions taken by members on the subject, actions taken by members on previous broadcasts and opinion of members on the quality of the programme.
After farmers fill in this proceedings and discussion report form, where possible, it is handed over to the Camp Agricultural Extension Officer (CAEO) for onward delivery to the District Agricultural Information Officer (DAIO) who then posts the discussion report form to the Radio Programme Producer at national level.
Where the agricultural camp is not manned, the farmers have to post the discussion report themselves or physically deliver the report to the DAIO.
This system of communication has proved to be time consuming and costly on the part of the farmers as it takes not less than two months in most cases for farmers to feedback on the questions asked on each broadcast or any other urgent problem faced by the farmers.