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Monday, 15 December 2014

Improving farmer livelihoods by access to information

By Bob Aston
The agricultural sector remains the most important economic activity in Kenya. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) 2013 Economic Survey, agriculture, which grew by 3.8 per cent, contributed 17.6 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. Despite this, most smallholder farmers in Kenya have not been able to improve their livelihoods.
Lack of access to information particularly by rural farmers has significantly slowed their path to economic empowerment. Rural smallholder farmers face challenges associated with lack of information that include; climatic conditions, type of soil, appropriate farm inputs, use of outdated technology, pests and diseases, best crops to plant in a given area, market information, changing weather patterns, farming information and agronomical practices.
Members of the public accessing information at Ng'arua Maarifa Centre

Access to information can play an important role in addressing these challenges and uplifting the livelihood of rural smallholder farmers. Information and communication technology (ICT) offers an opportunity to introduce new activities, services and applications into rural areas or to enhance existing services.
Access to information can help smallholder farmer’s move from unproductive farming to a successful and sustainable business. This can also help in closing the knowledge gaps that hold them back.
ICTs have huge potential to provide knowledge-based services to rural smallholder farmers thus contributing to achieving the first Millennium Development Goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by raising the income of smallholder farmers and strengthening the agriculture sector.
Information can help improve access to market by smallholder farmers. Smallholder farmers usually find it extremely difficult to access both the local and international market.  Access to market information will help create awareness of up-to-date market information on prices for commodities, inputs and consumer trends. This can improve farmers’ livelihood as well as impact their negotiation position.
Members of the public being trained about Sokopepe
Access to information can also help smallholder farmers enhance their agricultural production. Informed farmers are able to adopt good agricultural practices. This in the ends will increase efficiency, productivity and sustainability of their farms.  This will result in better prices for farmers hence improving their livelihood.
Capacity building and empowering smallholder farmers through use of ICTs can also help strengthen their own capacities thus they will be better equipped when negotiating input and output prices.
ICTs can also deliver useful information to farmers about agriculture like crop care and animal husbandry, fertilizer and feedstock inputs, pests and disease control, climate change adaptation and mitigation mechanisms and seed sourcing.
With the right tools, smallholder farmers are able to coordinate their planning and monitoring of production and marketing systems by virtually aggregating data. They are also able to access credit facilities much more easily.
Vision 2030’s Economic Pillar envisages the agricultural sector among the six key growth drivers of the Kenyan economy. It is expected that rural smallholder farmers are the ones who will make this to possible.
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