Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Sunday, July 24, 2011
DFID funded a study, carried out by CABI to see how emerging mobile applications can help the agriculture sector.
The study investigated the opportunity presented by the mobile phone market and telecom infrastructure to overcome the problems faced by agriculture extension.
The study investigated the opportunity presented by the mobile phone market and telecom infrastructure to overcome the problems faced by agriculture extension.
While searching for case studies on ICTs being used in Agricultural Extension, I came across this interesting presentation. If we compare this and the Agricultural Extension in Mauritius, it's clear that we have a very long way to go where ICTs are concerned.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
The term “Agricultural Extension”
Agricultural Extension is a term which is not always easy to define as different extension practitioners have defined it differently over the years, under different situations. Some definitions of Agricultural Extension are as follows:
Agricultural Extension is an informal education process that assists farmers in improving their farming techniques and methods, increasing production efficiency and income, bettering their standard of living and lifting their social and educational standards (Maunder A., 1973). It involves the conscious use of communication of information to help farmers forming sound opinions and making good decisions (Van den Ban and Hawkins, 1996).
According to Davidson and Ahmad (2003), the functions of agricultural extension may be classified into 3 main categories, which are
1. Information dissemination
2. Technology transfer
If Agricultural Extension has these 3 functions, what is common is that all of them involve COMMUNICATION. In order to communicate, there are 3 main extension methods which exist. These are individual method (farm visits, office calls, informal contact, and telephone calls), group method (group meetings, field demonstrations, conducted tours, seminars etc.) and mass media (newsletters, pamphlets/leaflets, radio talks, TV programmes etc.). While choosing the extension method to be used, the Extension Officer must analyse the situation well and consider several points before coming to a final decision. Ideally the best choice is to combine the different extension methods that are available and the choice is made depending on the topic, the target group, and the resources available. However, apart from these extension methods, another means to communicate to farmers and other stakeholders in agriculture would be the use of ICTs. In one way or another, ICTs are being used in agricultural extension in many countries over the world. The question that we may ask ourselves is why the use of ICTs must be considered when there are other extension methods which are available? Are they really more effective or they are being used just for the sake of being more “cool and modern”? Over the years, agriculture has evolved and is still evolving in the sense that new farming techniques are being developed, there are better and high yielding varieties which are being made available, there are new information that are generated by research in terms of good agricultural practices (management of pest and diseases, safe use of pesticides, irrigation and sanitation etc.) and new marketing strategies have been developed. For farmers to be up to date with these types of information, agricultural extension plays a very important role.
|Individual Method: Extension Officer in field of farmer|
|Group method: Group meeting/presentation with farmers|
|Use of Mass media in extension: Publications|
Examples of the use of ICTs in agricultural extension
ICTs can be used in Agricultural Extension for various purposes (sharing and obtaining market information, communicating faster with farmers and agriculture stakeholders, discussing on topics related to Good Agricultural Practices or policies, notify farmers on different opportunities which are available etc.). Some practical examples of ICTs being used in Agricultural Extension include:
1) radio talks
Simli (Friendship) Radio in Ghana is a community radio station which provides programmes for youth (1-12 years old) and adults. These Agricultural programmes are prepared by community radio Extension Officers who visit community to discuss their problems and priorities and the discussions are recorded with local experts. This initiative enables smallholders to hear people from their own communities and discuss issues in their own language.
2) the use of mobile phones
In Mauritius, there is a mobile service used in Agricultural Extension is the “SMS Disease Alert” by the Agricultural Research and Extension Unit (AREU). This service is about sending SMS to registered planters when there is a disease outbreak on a particular crop. The service is beneficial to the planters as they can take precautions to prevent the disease to affect their crops.
|Extension Officer sending SMS Disease alert to registered planters|
The Commonwealth of Learning Media Empowerment (COLME) works with in-country agencies. It identifies rural community needs and trains extension workers in shooting and editing videos using local content. The tapes/broadcasts produced serve large numbers of farmers, which facilitates the work of the extension services. The programme provides literacy for smallholders and women in Ghana, and in agribusiness and environmental sustainability in the Caribbean.
The National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE) in India provides facilities to disadvantaged rural communities, participating agencies, researchers, extension managers and smallholders with facilities and funding for videoconferencing and a network of information kiosks offering ICT access, training and information services.
5) Web and the internet
The Rice Knowledge Bank is a comprehensive resource provided by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) which links with the IRRI Rice Web, providing information on practices in the field; research findings; technology transfer methods and support skills; training materials; statistics and other data; a discussion area; and access to other agricultural sites.
6) multiple technologies
Institut Africain pour le développement Economique et Social-Formation (INADES-formation) in West Africa uses print, radio, audio and local facilitators to support group and individual study in Francophone West Africa. The programmes cover self-development, group management, managing community resources, financial management and marketing. The content is adapted for different ethnic groups and is available in 50 local languages.
RUNetwork in Jamaica ia a pilot project of the Caribbean Agricultural Advisory Service (CAIS), which uses “Information Cafés” with internet connection to exchange knowledge and experience between rural communities, researches and extension services. It provides CD-ROM based information and printers, scanners, digital cameras and audio recorders for capturing, storing and distributing local information.
The examples above certainly give a clear over-view of the potential of ICTs in Agricultural Extension. However, despite having different extension methods and ICTs as well, very often what happens is that the information generated by research or other information required by farmers is out of their reach. These situations arise when there is a failure in the extension process and there may be several reasons behind it. This issue may be viewed in the perspective of (a) Farmers and (b) Extension Officers.
(a) Farmers perspective
Most farmers over the world come from an ageing population, who have started to practice agriculture at a very young age. They have learnt agricultural practices from their parents/ancestors, which forms part of their tradition. For this category of farmers, it is very difficult to accept change in farming techniques as they believe that what they are doing is the best way to do it since they are in the business for years and have experience in the field. However, age is not the only factor for farmers to be reluctant in adopting new technologies/techniques as young farmers also do not accept change easily. This is because agriculture involves huge investment in terms of input and a wrong decision may result in bad yield and the farmer will suffer from losses. With respect to this, farmers are very careful in adopting new technologies and it is only when they are convinced that something really works that they will go for it.
Moreover, many farmers complain that they are not satisfied with the service provided by Agricultural Extension. They do not trust the information and advice given by the Extension Officers as they believe that the latter do not have enough knowledge and practical/field experience to be able to help the farmers. In this kind of situation, the whole extension process fails because as a change agent, the Extension Officer is unable to bring about a change in the behaviour of farmers and the main reason for this is the lack of trust and communication between the two parties.
In terms of ICTs, they may be used in Agricultural Extension, but if farmers do not realise their importance or do not know how to make use of them, there will be no information/technology transfer or communication. In the farmers’ point of view, these ICT tools like mobile phones or internet are not made for them as they do not know how to use it and believe that it will not bring any change in their productivity. They prefer to stick to their own way of doing things and ignore everything related to ICTs, even if they are present around them.
|Farmers working in onion fields|
(b) Extension Officers
Extension Officers are basically the link between research and farmers, who have a good knowledge on extension methodology, human behaviour and agriculture as a whole. The job description is not usually well-defined as they have different roles under different situations, which sometimes makes it difficult for them to decide which extension method or tool to be used. They may have different extension methods and ICTs tools at their disposal, but still many of them are unsuccessful in transferring information from research to farmers and vice-versa. There are many reasons behind this.
The skill that is most important for an Extension Officer is communication skills. This skill, together with the knowledge in human behaviour and agriculture contribute hugely in the success of an extension process. What is important to understand here is that all these 3 elements can be present in an Extension Officer, but they have to be upgraded regularly. If we take the example of technical knowledge on a specific subject (control of pests and diseases, good husbandry practices etc.), it needs to be updated regularly so as to know when to give which information to the farmers. Just like farmers have problems in understanding Extension Officers, the same thing happens in this case also; Extension Officers claim that farmers do not understand them. When we think about it, there are many questions which we should ask ourselves: Where does the problem come from? Does it arise because the Extension Officers do not have the required skills, knowledge and attitudes to perform their job? Are they badly trained? Are they being provided with the right extension tools?
According to a Training Needs Analysis done at the Agricultural Research and Extension Unit in Mauritius, it was found that the main causes in performance gap of Extension Officers were identified. 39.3% of the Extension Officers claimed that training is not done at a regular interval, 67.9% were not satisfied with their working conditions and 45% said that their offices are badly equipped (Hosenally N., 2011). Moreover, the study also revealed that highest priority for training was observed to be on their IT Skills, more specifically on their ability to use Web 2.0 tools. These figures indicate clearly that the failure of an extension programme may also come on the side of the extension service and not only on the farmer’s side. Presently, youth are being encouraged to go in agriculture and be entrepreneurs. But is the extension service ready to serve this category of farmers? If they do not have the proper IT skills and tools at their disposal, using ICT in Agricultural Extension will not prove to be effective as they will not know how to use them and as a result, the farming community will not benefit from this extension method.
The way forward
If we want to use ICTs in Agricultural Extension, there are several points that should be considered in order for it to be effective.
· Training of Extension staff and farmers
Extension staffs need to be trained on how to use ICT tools as an extension method because they were not aware of it when they had their pre-service training. During this training, they should realise the potential of ICT in Agricultural Extension and believe in its effectiveness because if they themselves do not believe that ICTs can help them improve their work and benefit the farming community, they will not be able to convince farmers to use them. When a new ICT tool is introduced in agriculture in a particular country, farmers must be aware of it and it is the responsibility of the extension service to pass on this information to farmers. This point is very important because in many countries, there exist many mobile applications for agriculture which have been developed, but farmers do not know about them or if they are aware, they do not know how to use them. After awareness of farmers on these ICT tools that they can use in agriculture, the next step is to train them on how to use these and monitor its progress. This is where the training of the extension staffs becomes important as they should be specialists on the subject while training the farmers, else it will be difficult to convince farmers to adopt ICTs in agriculture.
· Proper structure
It’s also very important to have a proper structure in the extension service if we want to include ICTs as an extension tool. If basic things like computers, laptops and mobile phones are not available to Extension Officers, they will not be able to use ICTs in their work and the same will apply to farmers, who will be less motivated in doing so.
· Support of the government
It should be the objective of the government to promote ICTs in agriculture and Agricultural Extension. If at this level, farmers and the extension service are encouraged to use ICTs and incentives are provided to them, different programmes can be initiated and implemented. Furthermore, using ICTs in Agricultural Extension also involves investment in the extension service, without which almost nothing can be done. To start with, these investments should include the purchase of basic ICT tools and training of extension staff and farmers as well (which requires capital and time). In order to do so, a budget should be allocated by the government or other support organisation.
ICTs should not be adopted only by the extension service and farmers, but research and all other stakeholders in agriculture as well should be involved. Sharing, obtaining and managing the right information at the right time is crucial to take decisions in agriculture and there is no better way than to use ICTs to do so. But to use ICTs, there should be proper framework, policies and collaboration from all stakeholders in agriculture.
Davidson, A.P. and Ahmad, M. (2003). Privatization and the crisis of agricultural extension: the case of Pakistan. Ashgate Publishing Limited.
Hosenally, N. (2011). A Training Needs Analysis (TNA) of Extension Officers at the Agricultural Research and Extension Unit (AREU). University of Mauritius.
Maru, A. (2005). Using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Agricultural Extension. Commonwealth of Learning.
Maunder, H. (1972) Agricultural Extension: A Reference Manual, FAO.
Van den Ban, A.W. and Hawkins, H.S. (1996). Agricultural Extension. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Science Ltd.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
|My Speech for closing ceremony of Red Ribbon Initiative (Phase 2)|
When I had joined AIESEC, I never thought that I would be able to form part of the Executive Body (EB) someday. The Local Committee President (LCP) and Local Committee Vice-Presidents (LCVPs) were like super-heroes to me, and as a new member in AIESEC, I was really inspired to work hard and be like them. I gave the best of myself for my Organising Committee President (OCP) term, and when application Local Committee Vice-President for Incoming Exchange (LCVP ICX) was advertised, I did not hesitate at all to apply because I just knew that I wanted to do it.
I still remember those first days in the EB, which were magical and I was learning more about AIESEC and Incoming Exchange (ICX) gradually every day. I would say that the VP ICX experience has been a very enriching one because while performing the job tasks, I got to know more about Exchange, Talent Management, External Relations and Communication. Coming to learning itself, this experience in the EB has enabled me to get to know myself better and grow. I was learning everything very fast and the amazing thing was that I could feel that big change that was happening in me.
As VP ICX, I also got the opportunity to work on all the Development Traineeship (DT) Projects from the Red Ribbon Initiative – Phase 2 in November 2010 till the projects realized in June 2011. Working on projects is my favorite till now because through this experience I have worked with different teams and interns from over 20 countries. Today I am confident in facing challenges, planning and implementing projects, training, tracking and coordination of team leaders/members. This knowledge and skills (leadership, communication, interpersonal, cross communication etc.) that I have acquired are definitely going to help me in the future for my career.
Without any doubt, I can say that joining AIESEC has been one of the best decisions I have taken in my life. Now after 9 months, my term as VP ICX is over and I must admit that it’s very hard for me to leave. But I’m taking it positively because one day when I will look back, I will remember these experiences as a beautiful dream that I have lived. Most importantly, I’m happy to leave a department which is the best department in the Local Committee (LC), with more than 108 exchanges realized. This department has members whom I have seen growing in front of me and may go in the EB or the Member Committee (MC) someday, to contribute in making a positive change in this world. My last message will be that the secret for success is to grab all opportunities that we get, love what we do and give the best of ourselves. And yes, ICX ROCKS!
|My Last Opening Ceremony of 3 projects as Vice President of Incoming Exchange for AIESEC UoM|
Below are some videos of the projects I have worked on and the Results achieved in the 9 months that I was in AIESEC UoM:
Finally, I now have an "I am an AIESECer" Picture! :)