"I was very happy to be given an opportunity to listen to fellow farmers explain about FMNR on the radio but also share my experience by talking on the radio- a thing I never thought could happen in my life. This has encouraged me to believe in myself to know that what I can do if shared to the public, can impact someone else’s life.”Anna Scott, 54-year-old farmer, Dowa District
Government of developing countries often lack the resources to teach farmers about high-yielding, appropriate crop varieties and fertilizer blends. Despite the rapid penetration of mobile phones and radios, insufficient extension services results in low dissemination of agricultural technologies and practices among rural smallholders. FRT uses ITCS to provide farmers with information that helps them to optimise their production.
Extension services through radio enhanced ICTs
Farm Radio Trust uses SMS platforms, beep4info services and the Mlimi hotline to reach millions of farmers with agricultural messages and advisories, thus enhancing linkages along the agricultural value chain.
Quality of the information
The information provided by experts from various research, governmental, and non-governmental institutions is scientifically proven, evidence-based and relevant to the local context.
Improvement of productivity and market access
Enhanced uptake of agricultural information optimizes use of limited resources, facilitates problem solving and increases accessibility to profitable markets.
Feedback mechanismWith the possibility to source information, farmers can directly influence service delivery, tailoring information to their specific needs.
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Farm Radio Trust solution can offer:
- Improved adoption of agricultural solutions by developing extension services through ICTs
- Accelerated farmer learning and problem solving accelerated thereby improving productivity
- Enhanced technology transfer and access to profitable market with information that directly address framers’ needs.
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development of Malawi
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Extension services are crucial for the uptake of new information and services that improve agricultural productivity, but personal and infrastructural challenges as well as a lack of funding have limited extension services in Africa. To improve the reach of extension services, Farm Radio Trust is exploiting the power of information and communications technologies (ICTs) including SMS platforms, beep4info services and the Mlimi hotline. This approach is reaching over five million people across Malawi with agricultural messages and advisories, thus enhancing linkages along the agricultural value chain.
Africa has the world’s largest area of agricultural land, but in sub-Saharan Africa, rates remain of agricultural productivity some of the world’s lowest.
While efficient agricultural production depends on a combination of factors, there is widespread consensus that extension services, if functioning effectively, improve productivity by providing farmers with information that helps them to optimize their use of limited resources.
Although new high-yielding, appropriate crop varieties and fertilizer blends have been developed, farmers are either unaware of them or lack the basic skills to manage these inputs in the best way. Governments, which are conventionally responsible for providing extension services, admit that they do not have enough extension agents to teach farmers how to use improved seeds and fertilizers effectively.
In many African countries, including Malawi, the ratio of extension workers to farmers is about 1:3,000. Lack of real-time extension services for farmers results in low dissemination of agricultural technologies and practices. This has led to low yields, poor uptake of agricultural solutions and few market linkages.
As a result of low productivity in the continent, it is estimated that one in five people go to bed hungry, making the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on elimination of poverty and hunger almost impossible.
Taking advantage of the rapid penetration of mobile phones and radios, which currently stand at 46 per cent and 45 per cent respectively, Farm Radio Trust (FRT) provides extension services through radio enhanced by ICTs. In partnership with over 16 community and national radio stations, FRT produces and airs agricultural messages reaching over five million listeners.
Content is generated by experts from various research, governmental, and non-governmental institutions through the National Agricultural Content Development Committee. This ensures that information aired is validated, evidence-based, scientifically proven and applicable to farmers in the context of Malawi.
To strengthen the sustainability of and support for the extension, FRT signed a memorandum of understanding for collaboration with the Department of Agriculture Extension Services (DAES) under the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.
The radio programs are enhanced by the Mlimi Hotline call center and mobile SMS platforms. The Mlimi Hotline provides real-time extension advisories to farmers through e-extension agents on both crop and animal value chains as well as other cross-cutting issues, such as weather and climate services.
The SMS platform, with a database of over 150,000 farmer contacts, broadcasts agricultural messages, and farmers can text their feedback in return. The platform also has beep4info service where farmers beep a designated number to get information, such as weather forecasts, that can guide their decision-making.
Using ICTs in agricultural extension expedites the process of transferring agricultural technology. ICTs can improve adoption of agricultural solutions, support farmer learning, facilitate problem-solving and increase accessibility to proﬁtable markets, thereby improving farmers’ productivity and livelihoods.
ICTs have also enhanced uptake of agricultural solutions among farmers. For instance, FRT rolled out a radio campaign for Feed the Future Malawi Agricultural Diversification (AgDiv) Activity that, among its other activities, addresses post-harvest grain losses by promoting the Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bag – a hermetic technology for grain storage.
The campaign was broadcast on three national and four community radio stations. Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bag sales increased from 6,267 bags in 2015 (before AgDiv’s arrival in 2016) to 571,045 bags between October 2018 and September 2019. This has encouraged PICS bags’ stakeholders, led by AgDiv, to target selling one million PICS bags by 2020. The spread of the PICS bags helps translate to increased incomes and food security.
The use of ICTs in agricultural extension is expected to expedite the process of technology transfer, as FRT is already reaching over 5 million listeners in Malawi. The radio programmes are enhanced by Hotline call centres and mobile SMS platforms, which are reaching over 600,000 and 75,000 farmers respectively.
Since its inception in 2015, the call centre has received over 600,000 calls from farmers across Malawi, with an average of 110 calls per day.
Through ICTs, farmers are making informed decisions on what to grow based on weather information provided by FRT. Production and market information enables farmers to easily access agricultural inputs and markets for their produce. Farmers also receive advice on how to use agricultural solutions and technologies including inoculant, manure and agricultural chemicals.
Platforms like the beep4info SMS service and the call centre have helped farmers recognize their responsibility to source information, supporting demand-driven extensions that directly address farmers’ needs. The feedback mechanism enhanced by ICTs enables improved packaging of information for better service delivery.
ICTs are most cost-effective if there are several users. However, many farmers have yet to pay for ICTs. The private sector can take advantage of this niche by creating novel business ideas for agriculture-related solutions, such as PIC bags.
The system is promising if the quality of messages is ensured and the two-way platform is used to engage farmers. It can be replicated in other areas with minor adaptations to the new environment. It also offers potential to develop systems that link value chain players, as proposed in future plans.
Farm Radio Trust will continue providing agricultural extension services to farmers through ICTs and will engage the private sector to evaluate the sustainable businesses opportunities that ICTs present. Client satisfaction surveys and impact evaluations for the ICTs will continue to be conducted to assess impact for improved service delivery.
Future plans include setting up mobile app platforms to enhance linkages among farmers, researchers, input suppliers and buyers of agricultural commodities. Other plans are to set up an FRT training centre and expand broadcasts from radio to television in order to further enhance agricultural extension services.
Last update: 16/10/2020