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Monday, 13 July 2015

Supporting ICTs for extension and advisory services

By Bob Aston
The rapid growth and increased access to modern information and communication technologies (ICT) can contribute to improved delivery and effectiveness of extension and advisory services, especially among rural smallholder farmers.
ICT has a vital role to play in getting information to farmers and vice versa. It has great potential to transform the way extension and advisory services are delivered to farmers. It is also an entry point for non-traditional actors who see advisory services as an area of intervention and for giving greater emphasis to subjects traditionally deficient in extension services.
Extension and advisory services are relevant to agricultural and rural transformation processes. Extension officers need to continuously develop new capacities and keep abreast of emerging technologies.
Nyaga holding chick peas plant
Samuel Nyaga, a farmer based in Naibrom area of Ol-moran Ward noted that access to ICT has enabled many farmers to access information that has enabled them to adopt best agricultural practices. Nyaga has been a frequent user of Ng’arua Maarifa Centre in Sipili town, Laikipia West Sub County.

“I acquired basic computer skills at the Maarifa Centre and since then I have been frequenting the facility to access extension and advisory services. As a farmer I have been able to learn a lot through use of ICT,” said Nyaga.
Traditional media such as radio and television have played a major role in extension and advisory services dissemination. Growth in internet and increased access to and use of mobile technology has also improved farmers’ and intermediaries’ access to information relevant for smallholder farmers.
These are now used to raise awareness and to provide information in response to questions about agricultural technologies, markets, prices and knowledge management
Nyaga has been using Maarifa facilities to learn about chickpeas, Stevia, cowpeas, tasha beans, purple sweet potatoes, special green grams and dairy goats. He has also been using SOKO+ at the Maarifa Centre.
The digital commodity and information system has been providing him with commodity prices from major markets, e-extension services and a listing of various technical and logistical support providers.
Community members accessing various services at Ng'arua Maarifa Centre
“ICT has made our work as farmers to be very easy. This days I get a lot of information through the internet. I now want to start practicing Climate Smart Agriculture as I have realized that climate change is a reality and I have to adapt,” said Nyaga.
Apart from accessing extension and advisory services from the Maarifa Centre, he is also an avid fan of Shamba Shape Up program which is usually aired on Citizen TV and Seed of gold publication which is available on Saturdays through Saturday Nation Newspaper.
Extension and advisory services should take full advantage of the potential of new technologies.  ICTs should be used more innovatively to achieve the goals of extension, and efforts should be made to attract women and young people to work in extension and advisory services.
Weak linkages between researchers, extension and farmers have been a major constraint in the application and uptake of new ICT innovations.  The capacity of farmers and extension officers need to be built in order to achieve the desired agricultural transformation that can help improve the livelihood of rural smallholder farmers.
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