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Telecentres as agricultural_knowledge_hubs_nsf2_aasw6_simonwandila2013


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Telecentres as agricultural_knowledge_hubs_nsf2_aasw6_simonwandila2013

  1. 1. CASE STUDY: Presented at the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week, 15th – 20th July, 2013 - Accra, Ghana CASE STUDY: IMPROVING ACCESS AND APPLICATION OF INFORMATION AND KNOWLEDGE FOR AGRICULTURE BY TRANSFORMING TELECENTRES INTO AGRICULTURAL KNOWLEDGE HUBS Author: Wandila Simon EXECUTIVE SUMMARY This paper discusses the pivotal role which telecentres play in enabling access to and application of information and knowledge for small holder farmers in Southern Africa, and how they can be transformed to enable access to relevant, dynamic and authentic information and knowledge for improved, sustainable agricultural growth, when they operate as agricultural knowledge hubs. It brings to light the importance of ICT strategies in agriculture for the purpose of strengthening capacities of institutions and improve on practices for enhanced agricultural extension and marketing services delivery. The paper also elaborates the power of public private partnerships in strengthening linkages among various stakeholders in agriculture and how through this, they can work together to improve access and application of information and knowledge for food security and income. This case study is based on the author’s encounter and lessons learnt during about four years (2009- 2013) of involvement in capacity building, information and knowledge management for telecentres and related initiatives as well as telecentre managers in Zambia and Southern Africa at large. The information was gathered through information obtained from online knowledge sharing platforms, during workshops and study tours. Improving agricultural productivity, profitability, and sustainability in Southern Africa, like elsewhere, depends on the ability of farmers to adopt change and innovate in their use of technologies, management systems, organizational arrangements, and environmental resources. Expanding the people’s capacity to innovate depends on their access to knowledge and information services, and their capability to understand and apply that knowledge, translating it into increased production, and improved income and food security. It is imperative that agricultural research forms an integral component of agricultural development. Indispensably, the results of agricultural research together with other resources such as market, micro-finance and weather information among others are the key to the effective and efficient operation of agricultural activities. There is need for strong linkages among various stakeholders in agricultural research and development and the farmers who spend most of their day time in the fields. This, demand for effective and efficient agricultural production and marketing extension and advisory services, adequate enough to meet the dynamic information and knowledge needs of the farmers. However, farmers Farmers in Southern Africa, like elsewhere in Africa and other developing countries are faced with problems of how to access timely, accurate and up-to-date technical agricultural information. This is mainly due to, among other reasons, a lack of adequate frontline agricultural extension officers, poor flow of information to and from farmers, lack of understanding on the application of agricultural information and knowledge and inadequate communication between research institutions and extension services.
  2. 2. CASE STUDY: Presented at the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week, 15th – 20th July, 2013 - Accra, Ghana With the increased use of ICTs such as mobile phones, it is now possible for farmers in rural and remote areas to be reached by mobile telephone and have access to up-to-date information at any given time. ICTs have therefore proved to be helpful in improving farmers’ access to agricultural extension and marketing services. However, there is need to improve access and application of this information and knowledge so as to increase production, and a result food security and income. FINDINGS Lack of adopted ICT strategy and practice in ministries in charge of agriculture, livestock, fisheries and forestry: i. Lack of capacity of farmers and extension officers in the use of modern ways of communication and information dissemination (ICTs) ii. Lack of access to adequate ICT tools and services by farmers, extension enterprises and extension service officers While National ICT policies have been developed and adopted in various countries, there is no effective provision for ICTs in agriculture. Some countries in Southern Africa are implementing ICT in agriculture projects, yet ministries in charge of agriculture do not have adopted ICT strategies or ICT strategies are not integrated into national agriculture policies. Zambia: With the growing demand for technical information generation and dissemination by farmers, and rapid changes in technology, the ministry of agriculture has in recent years been designing programmes meant to use ICTs in service delivery. Among the notable ones include agricultural information centres, internet based question and answer SMS services, and digitization. Mozambique: The Ministério da Agricultura (MINAG) as of April, 2005 did not have an ICT strategy in place, although the interest to develop was there. The Centro de Documentação Agrária e Informação do Sector Agrária (CDA) at MINAG is the department where web development is being spearheaded. The production of quality content is a concern for CDA management, as the creation of materials suitable for release on the web demands staff capabilities that have yet to be developed. In fact, judging from the date of release of official documents, release onto the website is slow. Between June 2004 and April 2005, the site was not updated. (CTA, 2005) Similar situations were discovered in Zambia, Tanzania, Botswana and Malawi where there are no ICT strategies in the ministry of agriculture, and websites meant to provide agricultural information are simple static sites. They are not frequently updated and therefore lack usefulness. However, due to lack of a clearly defined and adopted ICT strategy in agriculture to provide a framework for integration of ICT in the sector, various challenges have led to most of these projects not achieving the desired results. Other challenges include lack of ICT skills among extension and advisory services departments and lack of appropriate ICTs. For instance, there are situations where senior members of staff do not have competent computer skills and are not able to utilise the use of computers in the agricultural information centres pilot project. With an inclusively designed and adopted ICT strategy, an effective framework of integrating ICT into agriculture can be arrived at.
  3. 3. CASE STUDY: Presented at the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week, 15th – 20th July, 2013 - Accra, Ghana The absence of effective Public Private Partnerships in linking ICTs to agricultural development: Public Private Partnerships enables the pull of resources from different institutions and put together efforts collaboratively. Agricultural researchers, national extension and advisory services and local extension entrepreneurs, farmer groups and telecentre networks, all have the opportunity to explore collaboration if they have to thrive. Supporting each other through well- structured and modelled partnerships can improve service delivery, sustainability and impact. None of the partners can work in isolation and expect to create impact. In Southern Africa, various telecentres exist and a good number of them belong to the national Telecentre Networks, a platform for knowledge sharing for the development of telecentres in each country. Efforts have been and still being made by the Southern Telecentre Network (SATNET) to build the capacity of national telecentre networks and telecentre operators, facilitate advocacy for the integration of ICT in agriculture, network building and strengthening and information and knowledge sharing. However, very few partnerships exist with other potential institutions which not necessarily in the ICT sector. Efforts to create strong linkages and formulate partnerships with other sectors such as agriculture, still remains hard battles to be fought. This results into limited operations, growth, sustainability and impact of telecentres, when in the actual sense; they provide so many opportunities for such sectors like agriculture to thrive. Paying a courtesy call to the SADC ICT for development (ICT4D) programme team in 2011, SATNET was urged to develop a telecentre business model for Southern Africa, with a main focus sector, upon which relevant public and private sectors and institutions would be called to participate to formulate strong public private partnership for the full utilisation of the potential of telecentres. Learning from the deployment of telecentres in Botswana during a study tour in 2011 facilitated SATNET and hosted by Botswana Postal Services, it was learnt that public private partnership was the great force behind the popular Kitsong Centres and Nteletsa telecentres, a country wide deployment of telecentres in the rural areas of Botswana. Different telecommunication companies, private and public have joined hands in sponsoring the establishment of these centres. However, more stakeholders are needed to come on board so as to improve on content generation to meet the agriculture information and knowledge needs of the rural population who mainly depend on agriculture and livestock. This is due to the fact that, local residents do not frequent the telecentres because they cannot find the information and content they need, hence not utilising the telecentres. Lack of adequate frontline agricultural extension officers:  In Zambia, the extension-information provision has been done through person-to-person (farmer-extension officer) contact and mass media. However, these officers are few on the ground, over-stretched and often de-motivated. It is currently estimated that there is an average of one officer to 1,000 farmers. DISCUSSION Lack of ICT strategies in ministries of agriculture and the absence or ineffectiveness of public private partnerships are the major problems identified. However, alternative interventions would include:
  4. 4. CASE STUDY: Presented at the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week, 15th – 20th July, 2013 - Accra, Ghana - Conducting comprehensive research to understand the information, knowledge and communication needs of government extension service providers, private extension enterprises, farmers and telecentres across the agricultural value chain. - Establishing and strengthening public private partnerships involving different stakeholders such as telecommunication companies, entrepreneurs’ associations, government line ministries and departments, local and regional public and private agricultural research institutions, farmer associations, community development agents, local communities, telecentre networks, and government and private agricultural extension service providers. - Develop an agricultural information and knowledge content management model for telecentres where various key projects and organisations such as African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Service, Regional Agricultural Information and Learning System, Dissemination of News Agricultural Technologies in Africa, FARA, CTA, local private and public agricultural research and extension services and other related institutions participate in content development and capacity building for telecentres. A Telecentre is a public place where people can access computers, the Internet, and other digital technologies that enable them to gather information, create, learn, and communicate with others while they develop essential digital skills. ( Like in many parts of the World especially in developing countries, there are various telecentres initiatives in Southern Africa, funded or operated by various stakeholders such NGOs, government, social entrepreneurs. Equally, national and regional telecentre networks operate in Southern Africa. Telecentre have been points of public and shared access to ICTs for communities such as farmers who cannot afford access through ordinary means. Through their knowledge management initiatives, telecentres distribute information to farmers in agricultural extension and marketing service, especially on emerging new methods in agricultural practise, new input methods, weather, crop prices and other extension services. Being within the community with a local touch, telecentres are a great avenue to inform farmers through multimedia content, trainings, and farm demonstrations with the assistance of agricultural extension officers. Telecentres also stock library of repackaged agricultural information on CDs in different formats such as video, audio, text and image content and offer access to the internet as a way of sharing knowledge with farmers. Telecentres also offer meeting space and point for exchange of knowledge and ideas. CONCLUSION However, access to ICTs as well as the usability of the content accessed through ICTs plays a great role in their effective use in this regard. Mobile phones may only be able to access limited type of content which may not meet the information needs of farmers and on the other hand may restrict the extension service providers in their efforts to provide adequate content, and ensure it is understood and applied accurately by the farmers. Literacy levels also pose a great challenge in communication through SMS as many rural farmers especially the vulnerable rural women have not attained the minimum reading and writing skills. This makes it imperative to integrate a range of ICT tools such as computers in the preparation and delivery of agricultural information and knowledge, and in the same way be used by farmers to access that information and knowledge. In cases where there is shared access to computers and other ICT tools within the community through set ups such as telecentre initiatives, farmers have found these
  5. 5. CASE STUDY: Presented at the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week, 15th – 20th July, 2013 - Accra, Ghana resources to be very helpful. They benefit more than those who only rely on limited capacity ICT tools such as mobile phones. The level of understanding of the agricultural information and knowledge they acquire and as a result its application differs. In the midst of this privilege, many farmers even after having access to these shared access ICT centres, still finds the centres to be underutilised, as they lack adequate content to provide them with the necessary agricultural information and knowledge. In most cases this is due to lack of capacity by such telecentres to generate the required information and knowledge on agriculture, the absence of linkages between these telecentres and agricultural extension and marketing services as well as uncoordinated and not well supported telecentre networks. Therefore, building strong public private partnerships and capacity building that facilitates establishment and capacity of telecentres and their operators, while creating linkages with agriculture extension and marketing services is an intervention that can help Africa feed itself by improving information and knowledge sharing for food security. RECOMMENDATIONS - The PPPs should collaboratively build a business model which equips the telecentre with appropriate ICTs, build the capacity of telecentre staff, generate local content, with operating guidelines to create a strong relationship and collaboration with the involved stakeholders. Some of the core components of the operating guidelines would be to incorporate ICTs that breaks literacy barriers such as interactive voice response, video and audio content in local languages, on farm testing and demonstrations and periodic success and failure share and documentation through participatory video. - Ministries of agriculture should develop and adopt ICT strategies and have them supported in the budget. - It is recommended that institutions such the African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS), Regional Agricultural Information and Learning System (RAILS), Dissemination of New Agricultural Technologies in Africa (DONATA) and other related programmes undertaken by Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and other institutions, establish collaborative partnerships with telecentre networks in capacity building and content development and repackaging with a particular focus on agriculture. REFERENCE Simon Wandila (2012). Diversify to Survice; Public Private Partnerships drives the telecentre agenda in Botswana. ICT Update,( June, 2012), CTA. The Netherlands. Darlington Kahilu (2012). Application of ICT in the Agriculture Sector in Zambia. National Agriculture Information Services. Lusaka, Zambia. Marcel Werner (2005). ICT in Agriculture Extension and Marketing in Malawi and Mozambique. Research Report. CTA. The Netherlands. Contacts: Simon Wandila, Youth Skills for Development, C/O Musenge Tradings Building, Along Lufunsa Avenue, Chimwemwe Township, Kitwe, Zambia , Email: , Fax: 21012573 Phone: +260 961 079013