Farmers share information on climate received via SMS © Panos
Using podcasts and short message service (SMS) delivered to smallholder farmers is transforming farming production among rural Zimbabwe’s population, a project shows.
The use of these technologies is cutting travelling distances and helping to increase agricultural yields and alleviating poverty, SciDev.Net heard during a field tour last month (2 February) of districts involved in the project.
The Improved Nutrition and Sustainable Production for Increased Resilience and Economic Growth (INSPIRE) project being implemented by the UK-headquartered Practical Action, was initiated in December 2014 and ended in January this year, says Martha Munyoro, information and knowledge management officer, Practical Actions, Zimbabwe.
The project is aiding agricultural information dissemination using simple technologies – SMS and podcasts to enhance farming production, and thereby increase food security in the districts.
The UK’s Department for International Development funded the almost US$1.6 million project.
Munyoro says that the main objective of INSPIRE project is to enhance access to agricultural knowledge content to smallholder farmers.
“We believe that information is power and the use of new media technologies to communicate agricultural messages in this digital age is pertinent,” says Munyoro. “We are collaborating with locally trained knowledge workers as well as agricultural specialists from the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Resettlement to use such technologies to empower rural farmers in Zimbabwe.”
Munyoro adds that the INSPIRE project has trained and capacitated more than 100 knowledge workers who are responsible for disseminating agricultural knowledge content to farmers.
“In Mutasa, Mutare and Makoni districts, over 74,000 farmers have hugely benefited from INSPIRE since its inception in 2014,” says Munyoro. “We are enabling farmers to access up-to date and timely information on crops and livestock production. Apart from facilitating easy follow ups on their farming practises, podcasts are fighting poverty, increasing productivity and food security in the districts.”
Farmer Amos Mufanochiya, testifies: “Podcasts are ensuring that we get information educating us on how our livestock should be protected from diseases, how we should keep and upgrade our kraals and knowledge in applying chemicals in our farms.”
Nobbert Ngongoni, an agricultural researcher with Zimbabwe Open University, says that whilst technology is greatly assisting farmers in Zimbabwe and Africa, information and communication technology uptake is generally low among the populations and more so very limited in agricultural communities.
“ICT uptake is slow in Zimbabwe and most African populations and in activities they do, especially in agriculture,” he says.
African governments, Ngongoni notes, need to prioritise technology development and help farmers link it to businesses, customers and markets across Africa.