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New NGO unveils vision for Africa to access quality agricultural information to rural farmers in their own languages
Although 95% of the world’s population is engaged in social and economic activities revolving around agriculture and agribusiness, nearly 75% of the rural poor have no access to ICT driven media.
Emerging evidence points to lack of investment in ebase infrastructure as the last frontier on the road to unleashing the vast possibilities of cross-cultural fl ows of information. In Africa, East, South and some parts of North Africa have made remarkable progress to open up ICT infrastructure through fibre cable networks, bringing farmers, entrepreneurs and suppliers into a commercial convergence.
Agriculture in Africa is growing faster than industrialisation and currently out paces all other domestic investments. And yet the continent is only scratching the surface mobilisation among the rural poor – the smallholder farmer – to the unfolding economic transformation of the continent.
Now a new international organisation based in Nairobi has unveiled and ambitious vision for Africa to access quality information to smallholder farmers by harnessing research to a farmerdriven information platform in their own languages. Access Agriculture emphasises the use of farmers in a vast choice of local languages, international languages, and lingua franca. There are two approaches to this that operate independently.
There is the web portal that enables repositories of agricultural research and research and development (R&D) institutions to post videos or audio that narrate in short uploads what solutions are available to constraints on the farm. These must adhere to a preset condition. All videos meant for uploading must meet the criteria of farmer communicating with another. Videos can also be downloaded by interested party.
One needs only register online on the website for free. In very simplifi ed steps all videos show how to apply this information in easy to follow demonstrations. This way, farmers can access videos made possible by other farmers from other parts of the world on particular best practices in specific agricultural activities. Access Agriculture also has extensive acquisition, evaluation, translation, multiplication and distribution of high quality DVDs made available to farmer organisations, farmer groups, agricultural extension service providers and individuals in multiple local languages. In six months, Access Agriculture has accessed over 20,000 DVD copies, some translated into 20 local languages on a variety of high profi le farmer challenges. Some, like the DVD on fi ghting striga weed and improving soil fertility is in such high demand across the continent that the organisation is venturing its presence into countries beyond the fi ve core operational bases: Benin, Egypt, Kenya, Malawi, Mali and Uganda.
The distinct value offered by this approach is that it is a climb down to the level of the farmer by simplifying the highly complex communication processes employed by extension service providers and R&D experts. Communication experts believe the approach owes much credit to its farmer-to-farmer video mediated learning structure because it inspires farmers in one corner of the globe to learn to cope with challenges whose solutions are found in another corner.
Whilst smallholders across Africa share information at every social turn and across the fence, it is the successful folks among them that drive changes by serving as unwitting models. This scenario is critical, especially to the promotion of best practices in fi nance and food value chains because the highest stakes revolve around impacting positively on livelihoods. Access Agriculture consciously leverages on available social and economic structures to promote information transformation by creating discourses about what is available, appropriate, replicable, practical and profi table.
Constraints occasioned by poor connectivity to electricity or the internet and equipment are mitigated by forging partnerships with farmer and other public and private organisations that have structured grass root resource centres. Farmers congregate to view DVDs, debate all methods and solutions offered by other farmers and adopt the information to individual needs; becoming agents for change through veritable transformations. This is a clever <p>blend of farmer fi eld schools and classroom environment that gives every farmer an opportunity to be heard creating discourses about what information is available, appropriate, replicable, practical and profi table. With agriculture accounting for 17% of Africa’s total GDP and 40% of total forex earnings, Access Agriculture has set its target fi rmly set on its approach achieving intensive and interactive information fl ows between R&D and the end users. By promoting effi cient solutions to Africa’s agriculture, the organisation has created a fast unfolding story about infi nite possibilities to spur investment and growth for agriculture. Value chains, market development and resource management remains central to Access Agriculture who believes that ultimately, the market for the continents core market for agricultural markets is Africa. Within eight months since its inauguration, the NGO has been invited to replicate its vision in S.E. Asia.
In the last few months, Access Agriculture has launched Agtube, the agricultural equivalent of Youtube, this is to encourage the youth to play an increasing role in agriculture as a commercially viable alternative to offi ce employment. That is a welcome development in a continent in which the active agricultural labour force comprises 65% of job opportunities.