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An innovation systems approach to examine the organization of ICT-based IPs for extension services in Ghana

Written by: Daan Muster
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2018
Posted in category: Weather
Thumbnail An innovation systems approach to examine the organization of ICT-based IPs for extension services in Ghana

Imagine a world where you as a farmer have free access to agricultural knowledge and practices. Touching a few buttons on your mobile phone and you have direct access to market prices without using middlemen or having to travel by foot to a buyer in the next village. As farmers in developed countries embrace digital technology and experience benefits from using digital technology, farmers in developing countries face in their daily lives real challenges.

That’s a key message from my recent thesis, where I investigated the exchange of agricultural knowledge and technology innovations in Ghana. As a MSc student Climate Studies (track Water Systems and Global Change) at Wageningen University, I did my thesis under the Waterapps project (see end of article for further details). My interest was in the use of knowledge sharing platforms and virtual communities for the development of water availability information services  in the Greater Accra Region, Ghana. Extension services and other agricultural actors can use Innovation Platforms (IPs) to facilitate interaction and bring together a variety of agricultural actors along the agricultural value chain. The potential of ICT-tools in speeding up sharing and exchanging knowledge – the core of innovation – are valuable to enhance the interaction between farmers and other agricultural actors.

Among ICT-based IPs for extension services in Ghana the use of cell phones and also community-based FM radio stations are most common due to their high adoption and penetration rates. Mobile phones and text messages (SMS) are now accelerating the way Ghanaian farmers track weather patterns and market information. One of the leading examples is Esoko, a mobile technology platform that improves income of rural farmers by linking them to markets across Africa. Or Waterapps, for instance, that combines mobile information technology with the latest insights on knowledge sharing to create and test water information services. However, the success of any digital innovation depends on an understanding of what type of information farmers actually need. Which challenges does farmers in Ghana face on a daily basis and what are their information needs?

Challenges of farmers in developing countries
Ghanaian farmers indicated that top constraints in farming practices consisted of a lack of financial resources, high rates of illiteracy and low numbers of extension officers. Even though applications are quick and easy to reach rural farming communities, the inability of farmers to read and use information effectively is a major challenge. Within the Tuba community just outside Accra that I visited, it was estimated by the chiefs that only a handful (10 percent) could make calls as well as send text messages by mobile phone. The remaining 90 percent could mostly only make and receive calls but could not send text messages as they were not aware of the steps involved or simply could not read. Farmers indicated that should their capacities be built on how to send and receive messages as well, they would benefit more from the Waterapps project. Farmers also indicated that MTN Ghana, a telecom service provider, sometimes shared information via text messages on weather forecasts free of charge. Farmers said such information was not always accurate as it was usually aimed at the whole Greater Accra region and not their communities. The weather forecast provided by the text message is too broad as tropical showers can be very local. Furthermore, within the same SMS forecasts are also provided for Tamale, a city 600 km abroad.

Although farmers often were motivated by acquiring new knowledge and skills, these developmental incentives were not sufficient to encourage farmers to participate in ICT-projects. The time of farmers is also limited, and they expect to receive economic and material incentives to participate and compensate their time. Supportive activities like workshops, extension officers, local radio programmes or financial compensation are necessary to improve access, utility and efficiency of ICT-based extension services within farming communities.

How can Waterapps be of help for farmers in developing countries?
Very few projects are focussed on the support of communication between farmers. Most projects are aimed at the flow of information between the service provider and user. During a conversation with an officer of the leading organizations of the African continent, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), he stated that in Africa a lot of the agricultural activities are not visible. Different agricultural stakeholders including farmers, transporters, researchers and local policy makers are not communicating with each other and there is a lack of information sharing. Newly developed ICT-platforms such as Waterapps could focus on strengthening the communication capacity of farmers, the formation of farmer groups or the sharing of ideas and problems between farmers and agricultural stakeholders. Information about agricultural knowledge and practices can be shared digitally such as pictures or farming videos, new farming practices or even notices from the Ministry of Agriculture or other agricultural organizations. These digital innovations are an easy and smart way of connecting farmers to other farmers, and to farmer’s associations, buyers and local policy makers.

Will digital innovations be a long-term solution?

Digital innovations are changing the way farmers receive market and price information. But to realize their potential is not that easy. Self-adoption of technology by farmers is constrained by limited capacity in skills and resources to use effectively new technology and information. Addressing these top constraints – lack of financial resources, high rates of illiteracy, connectivity and content – will require innovation from both the public and the private sector to support the effective development of ICT in agriculture and to transfer technologies to the actual end user: the farmers.

This thesis is part of the overarching Waterapps program. The Waterapps consortium brings together a diverse range of organisations, including universities, businesses partners including Rabobank, and public authorities. The program is funded by Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and is coordinated by the Water Systems and Global Change group at Wageningen University. Through its collaboration with Rabobank, Waterapps program also aims to support and benefit from the Global Famers platform with its outcomes. More information about the Waterapps program and how you can benefit from its deliverables is available at www.waterapps.net



About Author: Daan Muster studied Climate Studies at Wageningen University and contributed to Waterapps project through his Msc. thesis research.