By embracing modern technology and engaging enthusiastic young people, the work of an NGO in Malawi is extending the reach of agricultural extension across the country.
With the right policies, innovation and investment, agriculture on the African continent could be transformed into a powerhouse, not only to feed the growing population but to create decent employment for millions of young people, states The Digitalisation of African Agriculture Report by CTA/Dalberg. As seen in other sectors, technology is critical to affecting change and driving development and, in agriculture, digitalisation could be a game changer in boosting productivity, profitability and resilience to climate change.
In another recent report, Byte by Byte: Policy Innovation for Transforming Africa’s Food System with Digital Technologies, by the Malabo Montpellier Panel, the authors state that digitalisation can “improve the agricultural extension system by providing services at the right time, attaining scale, and facilitating adoption of new agronomic practices, resulting in yield improvements and higher income for farming households.”
In Malawi, to make the most of technical advances to enhance extension approaches, international NGO, Access Agriculture, is working with budding youths as Deejays (DJs) in villages and major trading centres. The DJs reach out to farmers with extension messages shared through electronic devices, such as mobile phones.
Developing agriculture with DVDs and mobile phones
In 2015, Access Agriculture provided three DVDs with a compilation of agricultural videos to 95 DJs in the southern region of Malawi, with advice on growing rice, fighting striga weed and growing chilli. Apart from one video, all 30 farmer-to-farmer training videos were made in other parts of Africa and Asia and then translated into local Malawian languages. “Access Agriculture promotes the use of videos in local languages to support extension advisory services. In the case of Malawi, there are four languages in which the videos are being shared, namely: Sena, Yao, Chichewa and Tumbuka,” says Ronald Kondwani Udedi, country focal person for Access Agriculture in Malawi.
Jeffery Bentley, who has conducted research on the distribution and impact of the videos, says that the DJs copy the DVDs from Access Agriculture. They then share the videos on memory cards, USB flash drives or through mobile devices costing between €0.05 and €0.20 for each video. Virtually all of the DJs distributed at least some of the DVDs and were able to generate income from this activity. In addition, the videos have helped build community respect for the young entrepreneurs.
The DJs are not agricultural extensionists but have proved a viable alternative for distributing farming advice. Udedi adds that Access Agriculture is now working in collaboration with other organisations such as Feed the Future’s strengthening agricultural and nutrition extension (SANE) initiative. “The SANE partnerships intend to include DJs as part of the district agricultural extension services system, village agricultural committees, area stakeholder panels, district stakeholder panels and district agricultural extension coordinating committees. Stakeholders in agriculture are now realising that DJs are playing a crucial role in reaching out to farmers who are in hard-to-reach areas due to poor roads and difficult terrain,” Udedi explains.
One of the DJs distributing the videos is Silaji Fanuel, who manages a mobile phone and digital accessories shop based at Mangochi Turn Off Trading centre in Balaka district. He told Spore magazine that he asks his clients, mostly farmers, if they have the capacity to watch the videos on their phones as he does not have a DVD writer. “I have been doing this for the last 3 to 4 years,” states Fanuel. As a result of sharing the videos, some farmers started growing chilli for the first time and others responded by controlling striga, which they had never been able to do before.
Model farmers and advisors
Phemia Mpombwe is a retired teacher and one of the successful women farmers who have benefitted from the extension videos obtained from one of the DJs at Migowi Trading Centre in Phalombe District. “After watching the video shared by the DJ, I acquired knowledge used in rice growing in my area. This has resulted in me harvesting 140 bags of rice weighing 62 kgs each,” she states excitedly. “Despite failure of maize as a staple crop, rice will help me and my family. I will sell some of it and be able to buy necessities for the home and my children. I will use the money from rice sales to buy additional chickens.”
Mpombwe adds that, as result of the bumper rice harvest, she is now a role model farmer in the area attracting others to learn from her. Farmers are now flocking to her field to tap her expertise on how she has had such success.
Meanwhile, one of the DJs has won a smart projector through the Access Agriculture’s 2019 Young Entrepreneurs Challenge Fund competition. Osman Majid, based at Nathenje in Lilongwe, was distributing videos about farmer’s rights to seed. The video, which was filmed in Rumphi district in the northern region, shows how farmers preserve indigenous seed using traditional knowledge. “The projector will be used to show videos to famers and people of Nathenje and other surrounding areas. We will be showing the videos to farmers, including the youth, to advise them of the importance of agriculture,” he said after being announced as the winner.
By July 2019, 6 years after being established, the Access Agriculture video platform (www.accessagriculture.org) has attracted 270,000 people, mainly from Africa and Asia, including from thousands of development organisations and education institutes. According to a 2018 study titled Quality farmer training videos to support South-South learning, in 54 countries, there are over 1,000 visitors to the site who appreciate the easy search function, and the quality and relevance of the videos.