PCF5:Promoting Access to Agricultural Information by Women Farmers: Using Information and Communication Technology
by Dr Collins Kwabena Osei Kwame Nkrumah
The role of women farmers in production of food staples like cereals and vegetables is important since the motivation for participating in agriculture is first to contribute to household food security. In the Techiman Metropolis of Ghana, women farmers play an important role in vegetable production and marketing and therefore contribute to household food self-sufficiency. However low level of extension education on vegetable crops result in low productivity and household food insecurity. Studies have shown that women farmers do not benefit fully from existing communication channels for technology dissemination when access to these channels conflict with their household responsibilities. The conventional extension methods rely on face-to-face training and learning and are small in scale. Women farmers access to information through face to face training and learning may be problematic due to their many responsibilities. A main challenge to Ghana’s extension practice therefore has been to find creative ways of reaching out to more farmers particularly women with agricultural information. It is in this context that the Crops Research Institute of Ghana in collaboration with the GenARDIS project and the Commonwealth of Learning initiated and executed the project “Promoting access to and use of relevant Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) by women farmer groups to produce healthy vegetables” in 2005. The rational for the project was therefore, in response to the constraints associated with the conventional extension approach to meeting the information needs of women farmers in vegetable production. Among the lessons learned in the project is: Older ICTs such as radio, audio cassette recordings when combined with learning networks such as farmer radio fora and use of agricultural information centers increased access to agricultural information by women farmers.
Women in Ghana constitute about 51 percent of the population and about 50% of all food crop producers. They dominate the informal sector in areas such as food cropping, food processing and marketing. Hence the informal sector constitutes the most important source of employment for the majority of the working urban and rural women (Asenso-Okyere, 1997). Women farmers role in production of food staples like cereals, roots and tubers and vegetables is particularly important since the motivation for participating in agriculture is first to contribute to household food security (Al-Hassan et al, 2001).
In the Techiman Metropolis of Ghana, women farmers play an important role in vegetable production and marketing and therefore contribute to household food self-sufficiency. However low level of extension education on vegetable crops and poor agronomic practices among others result in low productivity (MoFA, 2001) resulting in household food insecurity and poor livelihood. A study by Osei et al, (2003) on training needs of extension workers and farmers in the Techiman Metropolis showed that women farmers do not benefit fully from existing channels for technology dissemination particularly when access to these channels conflict with their household responsibilities.
Adequate/Relevant information is one of the key requirements for increased productivity, increased income and therefore poverty reduction among food producers in underprivileged communities in Ghana (Egyir 2006). Agricultural extension programmes provide the much needed information in the form of practical field advice, innovations from research and other stakeholders. Extension transfers knowledge from researchers and other experts to farmers through conventional methods such as training, demonstrations and visits. These programmes use face to face teaching and learning which tends to be slow and limited in coverage. Access to information through the use of face to face teaching for women farmers may be problematic for them due to other responsibilities. A main challenge to Ghana’s extension practice therefore has been to find creative ways of reaching out to more farmers / particularly women farmers with agricultural information. Information, Communication Technologies (ICTs) can enhance, enlarge and contribute to efficient sharing of agricultural information. However the relevancy of the information, the medium through which the information is passed and the language used in disseminating the information is central to how ICTs can be used as tools to meet the needs of the communities /women farmers in which they are deployed.
In this context, a one year GenARDIS project, “Promoting access to and use of relevant Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) by women farmer groups to produce healthy vegetables” (Box 1) was initiated in 2005. The rational for the project was therefore, in response to the constraints associated with the conventional extension approach to meeting the information needs of women farmers in vegetable production. The main objective of the project was to empower women farmers through the use of ICTs to access farm information to broaden their economic opportunities. This paper discusses the achievements/prospects, challenges and lessons learnt in promoting access to agricultural information through use of ICTs by women farmers
Box 1: Basic features of GenArdis Project: Title: Promoting access to and use of relevant Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) by women farmer groups to produce healthy vegetables Lead Agency: CSIR-Crops Research Institute, P.O. Box 3785, Kumasi, Ghana Duration and Budget: 12 months (February 2005- February 2006), €5000 Main Partners: • 3 Women dominated farmer groups in Techiman Metropolis • Women in Agricultural Development (WIAD) • Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) • CSIR-Crops Research Institute (CSIR-CRI) • CLASSIC FM Radio Donors: • Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, ACP-EU (CTA) • The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) • The International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) • The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) Outputs: • Enhanced access to agricultural information by Women Farmer-Groups through the use of mobile phones, market information center, radio broadcast and audio cassette recordings • Enhanced access to information on healthy vegetable production and marketing through the use agricultural information center and audio-cassettee recordings • Improved Knowledge of women farmer groups on safe use of pesticides through radio sensitisation programmes • Empowered women farmer groups through capacity building programmes by employing relevant ICTs Contact details: C.K. Osei (Project Coordinator) firstname.lastname@example.org John Manu (Metropolitan Director, MoFA) email@example.com
The project was carried out in three communities (Asueyi, Tanoso and Tanobuasi) of the Techiman metropolis. The communities were chosen because they represent typical vegetable growing areas in the Metropolis and receive information support from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) and the Women in Agricultural Development (WIAD).
Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) methods such as discussions in meetings, checklist for group interviews and visits to information sources were used to collect information from farmer groups. According to Theis and Grady (1991), PRA techniques are effective methods for a quick and systematic collection of information for needs assessment.
The process leading to the implementation of the project followed a 3-stage procedure comprising of a preparatory stage, implementation stage and a participatory monitoring and evaluation stage outlined in Box 2
Box 2 Project Implementation Stages Stage 1: Preparatory steps 1. Held a preparatory workshop/meeting to reach a common understanding with stakeholders on the reasons, aims and methods of the project 2. Conducted an information needs assessment survey to understand farmers information needs and their use of relevant media 3. Planned capacity building activities and use of relevant media in support of the implementation stage
Stage 2: Implementation stage 4. Trained 70 women and 25 men farmers to access farm information through radio broadcast, audio cassette recordings, use of market information centre 5. Sensitised farmers on safe use of pesticides through local FM radios 6. Facilitated the participation of farmer groups in live FM radio discussions on healthy vegetable production 7. Facilitated visits by women-dominated farmer groups to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) Agricultural Information Centre
Stage 3. Participatory Monitoring of Project 1. Monitoring progress of farmer-groups
Stage 1 comprised the following: • conducting a stakeholders meeting to reach a common understanding on reasons, aims, and methods of the project activities. It also includes work plans, budgets reporting mechanisms and memorandum of understanding. • conducting of a participatory information needs assessment survey to understand farmers information needs and their use of relevant media • discussion of use of relevant media, in support of the implementation stage
Stage 2 comprised of conducting capacity building activities such as: • Training of women-dominated farmers groups to use relevant ICTs (mobile phone, audio recordings, and the agricultural information centre) to access farm information. • Sensitisation of farmers on safe use of pesticides through local FM radios • Facilitated the participation of women-dominated farmer groups in live FM radio discussions on healthy vegetable production • Facilitated visits by women-dominated farmer groups to the agricultural information centre of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA)
Stage 3 comprised of monitoring progress of activities of farmer groups to • assess achievements/prospects, challenges and • lessons learnt in promoting access to agricultural information through use of ICTs by women farmers
Understanding Farmers’ Information Sources As part of the stage 1 project activities, a baseline survey was undertaken to identify information needs of women farmers in the Techiman Metropolis. Among the findings of the survey (Table 1) were: • Farm information sources were limited to traditional and conventional channels (relatives, other farmers, input dealers, farm field days and demonstrations) • Women farmers had a good knowledge of a number of conventional ICTs of which radio, audio recorder, agricultural information centre, mobile phone and video appear to be tools of relevance (Table 1). • Modern ICTs such as the mobile phone is used by women farmers as a means of communication not as a source of information while computer and the internet are known but not used
Findings from the survey were used for introducing and testing 4 relevant ICT tools and services which ranked as most relevant ICT tools (Table 1). They were listed in the following order of importance: radio broadcast, audio cassette recorders, agricultural information centre and the mobile phone.
Table 1: Farmers Knowledge on ICTs and Use in Food Production ICT tool % know % use ICT perceived as useful tool for agriculture information Mean score Rank as most relevant ICT tools Radio 96 66 80 81 1
Audio Recorder 90 60 70 73 2 Agricultural Information centre 60 17 95 57 3 Mobile telephone 98 10 60 56 4 Video 80 30 55 55 5 Computer 30 4 10 15 6 Internet 12 1 1 8 7
Capacity Building During the implementation stage, capacity building activities were conducted to empower 3 women-farmer dominated groups to improve their access to farm and market information using radio broadcast, audio cassette recordings, the agricultural information centre and mobile phone in their communities. The capacity building activities included: • Sensitisation of farmers on safe use of pesticides through local FM radios and audio cassette recordings • Building the confidence of women farmers through participation of live FM radio discussions on healthy vegetable production • Facilitating the formation of listening clubs to analyze agricultural radio information • Facilitating visits by women-dominated farmer groups to the Agricultural Information Centre to access agriculture information • Training on use of mobile phones to access agricultural information
Use of Relevant Media Relevant media were used in support of the capacity building activities. Specific topic areas in safe use of pesticides were broadcast for 10 weeks by a local FM radio, which operates in the municipality. Using the panel discussion method, a mix of women and men farmers participated in live radio discussions that met the learning needs of farmers in healthy vegetable production. Discussions were based on repackaged information on healthy vegetable produced from an earlier Commonwealth of Learning sponsored project.
During the survey, about 45% of the interviewees indicated that, they did not patronage radio broadcast on agricultural programmes. They cited reasons such as lack of awareness of the agricultural programmes and time of broadcast coinciding with their home chores. To increase their access to farm information by radio broadcast, radio broadcast were recorded and dubbed on audiocassettes for replay by the farmer groups during their meeting days. Audio cassettes make it possible for farmers to control time and pace at which they learn (Osei and Aggor, 2006).
The agricultural information centre at Techiman is one of the several information centres established by MoFA in some Metropolis and Districts to improve on information delivery to farmers. The centres act as a one-stop shop to provide up-to-date information on trends in agriculture. During the farmer interview, it became apparent that awareness and use of the agriculture information centre were low among the women farmers. The three women groups were therefore supported by the project to visit the agricultural information centre where they acquainted themselves with activities of the centre especially in the area of access to agricultural information.
A concern of the project was the use of the mobile phone by women farmers as a means of communication but not as a source of information. When farmers were asked about how they use their mobile phones or the mobile phone kiosks in their communities, majority of respondents (70%) indicated that they call relatives and friends to discuss family and other matters confirming the use of the mobile phone for social activities. Only a small percentage (30%) of women farmers used the Mobile phone to source for market information. Farmers in the project were therefore sensitised on the use of mobile and land phones to source for market information from the agricultural information centre and from their customers in the urban centres.
Benefits to Farmer-Groups As part of the stage 3 activities, the project followed through some of the activities to document their benefits to the farmer groups. There was a general agreement by farmer groups and project staff on the benefits of the project to the participating farmer-groups. They included the: • Use of telephone, radio and the agricultural information centre to broaden farmers sources of farm information • Provision of services by the agricultural information centre to group members leading to access to market information • Participation in life radio broadcast which brought them closer to the media thereby demystifying the media • Use of mobile telephone to source for market information from customers and MoFA Agricultural information centre
In conclusion there are a number of lessons learned for the future use of relevant ICTs by farmers to access agricultural information.
Building the capacity of women farmers through training, sensitization and visits to centres of learning empowers them to access relevant information from multiple sources. Women farmers with relevant information are better able to assume responsibility for themselves and their activities. According to IICD (2007), individuals who acquire the ability to access information often find their social status as well as their employment opportunities increase.
Though radio was found as an important rural communication tool in the context of agricultural production, nevertheless, there are limitations when women farmers are the target. Even where access to use of radio does not pose a problem, usefulness of programmes and time of broadcast of agricultural information coinciding with household chores act as limiting factors to use of radio as a sole communication channel. Older ICTs such as radio, audio cassette recordings when combined with learning networks such as farmer radio fora and agricultural information centers increase access to agricultural information by women farmers (Osei and Aggor, 2006).
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