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What does web and mobile based multimedia have to offer to agricultural extension services?

Posted by Wachanga.W.W. on Feb 25, 2012 in Agriculture & Technology |

Agricultural extension services are aimed at empowering farmers to carry out and adopt better agricultural practices. It provides an avenue for enabling farmers tackle various challenges they face like crop/animal diseases as well as learn and take advantage of new upcoming technologies, breeds, crops e.t.c. The common practice is that of an agricultural extension officer going round the rural areas and interacting with the farmers.

The advent of technology has brought with it tools that can complement and improve efficiency of the way these services are carried out.  If harnessed effectively, technology will not only improve delivery of rural advisory services but also provide the much needed market information.

In Africa, there has been an explosive growth and proliferation of mobile phone technologies and increasing access to internet (with the growing number of telecentres/ digital villages). According to the government of Kenya survey [Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) – Analysis of 2010 ICT Survey], mobile phone access and ownership is high in Kenya in both urban and rural areas. Even in the province with the lowest access rates (North Eastern), around 60% of the population aged 18 and above has access to a mobile phone (either because they have a mobile phone or because a relative or a friend has one). The access to data services and internet is not as extended as access to voice services. This situation is being alleviated by initiatives where entrepreneurs, especially the youth, are being provided with affordable financial credit access to invest in digital villages.

Web and mobile technology platforms have developed to allow various forms of multimedia to run on them. One such initiative striving to take advantage of this is by a group of young innovators in Kenya who are working on a unique web- and mobile-based multimedia agricultural extension service initiative – mazao –   that aims to provide high quality and reliable information to farmers to enable them to make more informed decisions throughout the land preparation, planting, pest management, harvesting, post-harvest and marketing of agriculture produce, including climate and weather information.

The farmers will access this information on their mobile phones as well as on computers (for those who have access). The content will be multimedia-based in form of videos, animations, photos and text delivered in form of a mobile application and/or mms/sms based subscription. This proposed solution is specifically designed to tackle information challenges that face Kenyan farmers. The uniqueness of this proposed platform is that high quality compressed videos, audiobooks, graphics, animations and texts are availed at the farmers’ finger tips – on their mobile phones – and do not require a high-end smart phone. It can run on a fairly affordable mobile handset and as such it will be far-reaching thus greatly complementing the current government agricultural extension services.

Mazao will also offer an ‘ask-the-expert feature’ where a farmer will be able to raise an issue e.g. a crop symptom and get feedback. This issue and the feedback also automatically appears on the web portal for future reference by others.

The other unique feature of mazao is that a farmer will be able to register their crop(s)/animal(s) and get multimedia monthly updates and advice through the crop(s)/animal(s) growth on how it should look like, diseases and other issues at the various stages of growth. There will also be an option of subscribing to an update service on various areas of interest.

The challenge of such initiatives is not on the technology aspect as described above, but content packaging that is far-reaching and easily adoptable by the farmers despite their geographical location, literacy levels, finance capability and other social-economic factors. This is the challenge faced by many agricultural research and technical institutions, universities e.t.c. that have a lot of content that could feed into an initiative but have not been able to package it appropriately.

One way to tackle this is through information intermediaries (brokers) to take ownership of the process and manage, maintain and sustain it. This is a broad area of discussion beyond the scope of this blog article though.

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