Republic of Zambia Reaching Out and Listening to Farmers The Case of NAIS Internet Based SMS Platform Presentation made at the 3rd IAALD Africa Chapter Conference ,Johannesburg, South Africa, 21st - 23rd May 2012.By Darlington KahiluNational Agricultural Information ServicesMinistry of Agriculture and Livestock, Zambia.Email: email@example.com Keeping the Nation abreast with Agricultural Information and technologies
Introduction Farmers in Zambia, like elsewhere in Africa, are faced with problems of how to access timely and up-to-date technical agricultural information. This is mainly due to lack of adequate frontline agricultural extension officers, poor flow of information to and from farmers, and inadequate communication between research institutions and extension services. With the increased use of ICTs such as mobile phones, it is now possible for farmers in rural and remote areas to have access to up-to-date information at any given time.
Introduction cont… NAIS, as part of agricultural extension service in Zambia, forms a link between the researchers and the farmers. In 2007, NAIS opted for information and technology-based solutions to improve feedback to and from farmers in Zambia. This led to the development of an Internet-based platform, that allows farmers to ask questions using Short Message Service (SMS) available on mobile telephones and receive answers within the shortest time possible.
Introduction cont…. Farmers’ concerns and the manner in which they adopt the technologies are also relayed to the researchers. The project was introduced to NAIS in order to improve the internal and external flow of agricultural information between sources and the end-users. The approach to increase the use of modern information and communication tools to gather, process, store, package and disseminate information in order to increase farmers’ productivity.
Background The agricultural sector generates an average of 18% to 20% of GDP and is a major source of livelihood for over 50% of the population. Fifty percent of the population depend on agricultural- related activities for income and food for their livelihood. The sector absorbs about 67% of the labour force and remains the main source of income and employment. Despite its potential, the agricultural sector in Zambia has performed below expectations.
Background cont… Extension and information service provision plays an important role in agricultural development in any country. Zambian has established an effective extension and information system in the country. The extension-information provision has been done through farmer-extension contact and mass media. It is currently estimated that there is an average of one officer to 1,000 farmers.
Radio & broadcasting services for farmers in Zambia Zambia provides agricultural information services through the use of mass media - in parallel with the mainstream extension services it offers. Broadcasting services of agricultural radio programs which target local small-scale farmers were initiated as early as the mid-1960s with financial and technical assistance from UNESCO. Radio listening groups called ‘Radio Farm Forum Groups” were set up - with the motto of ‘Listen, Discuss and Act”.
Figure 1: Basic Element/Components in an Agricultural Extension System Rural Community -Research Stations Information - Gov/NGOs Sources -Agribusiness/Private companies Extension agents - Other farmers, ect. Clientele (Farmers) Extension Mass Media Information & Knowledge Organizations Other Farmers (Technology) -National/Local Government - University - Cooperatives - Private
Organization of Radio Farm Forums To come-up with farmer listening groups, NAIS used group dynamics - common interest group (radio listening). These groups were allowed to have a membership of between 10 and 25 of men, women and youths - to enhance good radio listening. The groups were given a radio set and batteries by the government, to enable them listen to agricultural programmes and other developmental programmes.
How do Radio Farm Forums work?The standard process works as follows: At Radio Farm Forum (RFF) level, farmers gather, once a week, to listen to agricultural technical information broadcasted via the 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 fill in a feedback report form, commonly referred to as a Proceedings and Discussion Report.
Drawbacks with the ‘old’ system NAIS encountered many difficulties in its efforts to efficiently collect and deliver agricultural information from original sources to the end users. Information packages are passed on via third party in hard copy. This system of communication proved to be time-consuming and costly on the part of the farmers as in most cases it took more than two months for farmers to give feedback.
Drawbacks with the ‘old’ system cont... Information products such as audio cassettes, feedback forms, publications etc, have been delivered through ordinary postal services and members - costly and longer delivery periods. There has been no systemic storage and retrieval system set up for the information NAIS has gathered over these years. No centralised information access point for farmers and other stakeholders such as extension offices in form of information resource centres.
Establishment of the ICTs project in NAISFollowing the Siavonga Roundtable discussions in October2002 in Zambia, NAIS came up with the idea ofstrengthening NAIS HQ and district level offices andstaff, and building on the existing agricultural structures toensure improved collection and dissemination of requiredinformation to and from farmers and extension staff.This entailed;I. Streamlining the information flow among NAIS sections and other MAL departments;II. Improving the coordination of information activities and;III. Enhancing the ability of NAIS to collect, process, and disseminate information to and from farmers and other sector stakeholders;
Overall objectivesThe project objective is to improve information flow withinNAIS and the flow of agricultural information between sourcesand end users by increasing the efficiency of NAIS to gather,process, store, package and disseminate information in orderto increase farmers’ productivity.Specific objectives are:• Improve information flow within the NAIS Strengthen linkages between agricultural researchers, extension officers, farmers and other stakeholders;• Increase the capacity of the NAIS to collect, process, package, store and disseminate agricultural information;• Increase capacity of the NAIS to publish in more accurate and appropriate formats.
Proposed activities after M&E Identify stakeholders in Kasama and other towns where community radio stations exist who can support the production and broadcasting of agricultural programmes on community radio stations. Explore the possibility of using mobile phones in the create feedback mechanism that would shorten the flow of information between farmers, extension workers and researchers. Improve the rural information centres in the four pilot areas of Kasama. Increase on the number partners in the project.
Phase II of project – SMS Internet Based PlatformIn today’s world, information and communication technology(ICT) contributes to many innovations.This challenges us to think out of the box in order to come upwith new, fast and effective ways to get hold of theinformation we need to stabilize, and even enhance, farmers’livelihoods.The SMS system deployed by NAIS and developed by SMSize,with support from IICD, is an eloquent solution to an age-oldproblem: namely, getting timely and accurate information andadvice to farmers and extension workers in the rural areas intheir own local languages.
Figure 3: Screen shot of the inbox of the platform
Piloting the SMS messaging platformThe platform has been tried out with farmers’ groups inKasama district of Northern Province of Zambia (pilot area)located about 900 Km from Lusaka.Farmers were happy with the new platform and they see it asa tool that will help them bridge the existing disconnectbetween them and agricultural experts.The SMsize platform was in October 2011, introduced anddemonstrated to the Permanent Secretary and all theDirectors in the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.The idea behind this demonstration was to create awarenessand allow policy makers in the ministry see how it works andso as to have management buy-in.
Figure 4: Farmers testing the SMS platform in Kasama
SMS Platform upscalingBased on the experiences in the piloted district, NAIS will nowupgrade the platform and upscale the system to cover all theten (10) provinces and allow all smallholder farmers accessthe platform.The platform was on 30th November, 2011 launched by theMinister of Agriculture and Livestock.Now farmers country wide are able to access the platformand they are currently sending questions using their mobilephones and receive answers – as stated earlier, the system iscurrently only available to Airtel subscribers.
Figure 5: Minister of Agriculture & Livestock launching the platform in Lusaka.
The growth of Zambia’s mobile phone serviceOne sub sector that has grown by leaps and bounds is themobile phone service. In the late 1990s when the cell phone‘craze’ invaded Zambia, having a mobile phone was a sign ofaffluence and sophistication.Today, things have changed with almost every third personyou meet on the street ‘brandishing’ a phone.Mobile phone subscribers currently number around 5 million(with Airtel Zambia, the country’s leading mobile provideraccounting for 3 million.The company operates in all the 72 districts of the country, afeat yet to be matched.
Figure 6: Mobile phone usage by farmers is increasing
How the platform worksUsing their mobile phones, farmers need to do the following:Go into the message pad and type NAIS, language code,leave space, ask your question and send to 3009.Apart from English, farmers will be able to use the service inall the seven major local languages namely Bemba, Kaonde,Lunda, Luvale, Lozi, Nyanja and Tonga.The language codes are EN for English, BE for Bemba, KA forKaonde, LU for Lunda, LV for Luvale, NY for Nyanja, LO for Loziand TO for Tonga. Codes can be sent either in capital letters orsmall letters.Each SMS on the system costs 900 Zambian Kwacha (US$0.18) and this will reduce the current expenses farmers areincurring to post or send their discussion report forms forpossible solutions to their farming problems.
How the platform works cont... However, this SMS cost of K900 is on the higher side and initiatives by the department have been made to request the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) help waiver this rate so as to enable more farmers have easy and cheaper access to the platform. The system is currently only available to Airtel subscribers; however, the system will be available to all networks in due course.
Government support is key.For systems like these to succeed and be sustained they needthe support of government.The Zambian government is therefore in the best position totake the lead in this initiative and drive it forward.We therefore urge the government to exploring ways inwhich ICT can further accelerate development in theagriculture sector.It is our hope that decision-makers and policy-makers willcome to realize the lasting benefits that ICT-enableddevelopment can bring.
ConclusionInformation and communication technologies (ICTs) are akey input for economic development.In the agricultural sector, ICTs are beginning to increase theeconomic and social well-being of some smallholderfarmers, individuals and communities.With the introduction and better use of ICTs in theagricultural sectors, will enhance the effectiveness,efficiency and transparency of the public sector servicedelivery.
Conclusion cont…As a sector, we call for enhanced public private partnershipinitiatives in promotion of ICTs in all agricultural sub-sector.This will increase the economic viability of farm enterprisesby increasing profitable market access and productionefficiency.Finally, I wish to reiterate that Zambia cannot afford to lagbehind in the use of ICTs in agriculture.It is my sincere belief that the Ministry of Agriculture andLivestock in Zambia will continue to support ICT initiativesaimed at facilitating growth in the agricultural sector.
Conclusion cont…Let us all work together to explore ITC uses inagriculture further and use it to bring us closer toachieving food security, a greener economy, andeconomic success.“Investment in agricultural ICTs, isinvestment in the country’s economy”.