How ICT can help small-scale farmers

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, Dakar, Senegal

Agriculture in Senegal is threatened by pests such as locusts, birds and fruit flies, drought, flooding and lack of financial support by government – challenges that often pave the way to low output.

The rain-fed sector employs over 75% of the country’s workforce. But Lamine Guèye is one of the small-scale farmers who have been struggling recently since the 2011-12 agriculture production failed to live up to its expectations.

Asked if he has ever heard of the use of ICTs in farming, he told Biztechafrica: “I don’t know anything about it, but I heard someone was saying on the radio that one day we might end up using technology in farming.

“I also heard that in other countries farmers have computers and other equipment to monitor weather patterns such as rainfall, drought and flooding, also check what kind of products the market wants and the prices of those products.

“I wonder how it works, if it does indeed work I think it’s changing the lives of small-scale farmers in a big way.”

Guèye admitted that while demand for agricultural products has been increasing considerably as the population swells and the number of people with disposable income also grows, many small-scale farmers have been unable to meet those demands.

Many experts agree that small-scale farmers need an innovative boost to help them cope with their daily struggles in order to increase their production, and therefore cope with high demands of the market.

That is where ICT comes in. The role of ICT to enhance food security has long been endorsed at World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) some nine years ago.

The use of computers, internet, geographical information systems, mobile phones, as well as traditional media such as radio or TV have the potential to help farming and support rural livelihoods, the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) said.

Increasing the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of small-scale farms is an area where ICT can make a significant contribution, according to IIED’s Jac Stienen, Wietse Bruinsma and Frans Neuman.

 “Farming involves risks and uncertainties, with farmers facing many threats from poor soils, drought, erosion and pests. Key improvements stem from information about pest and disease control, especially early warning systems, new varieties, new ways to optimise production and regulations for quality control,” Stienen, Bruinsma and Neuman added.

These three experts explain how ICT’s simple and cheap methods can boost the agriculture sector and overcome many of its challenges:

“Simple websites to match offer and demand of agricultural produce are a start of more complex agricultural trade systems.

“These sites tend to evolve from local selling-buying websites and price-information systems, to systems offering marketing and trading functions.

Typically, price information is collected at the main regional markets and stored in a central database.

“The information is published on a website, accessible to farmers via information centres. To reach a wider audience, information is broadcast via rural radio, TV or mobile phone, thereby creating a ‘level playing field’ between producers and traders in a region.”

Guèye’s questions on how ICT can help small-scale farmers reach the levels they never reached in their careers are answered – for now.

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