The WaterApps project acknowledges that water-related information is important. But: How exactly does it flow between the stakeholders? What types of information are transferred to the farmers? How does this affect the decisions made and what can be learned from today’s information delivery for future information design?
I answered these questions in the course of my master thesis, which focuses on the flow of water-related information towards farmers in the Ada East district, the Ghanaian case study area of the WaterApps project. Three key factors motivated the choice of the topic:
Therefore, I travelled to Ghana and conducted interviews with local farmers and stakeholders involved in the information provision to generate new insights.
Information types and providers
The first aspect of my thesis focused on finding out who is involved in the information provision and what information is provided. I found twelve different types of water-related information which can be allocated to the three categories weather information, farm and water management advice and irrigation information.
I mapped out the information flows towards the farmers in three maps to illustrate regular and irregular information flows. The information flow of weather-related information is illustrated in the diagram below.
The analysis showed me that though the network of stakeholders is large, only very few stakeholders manage to engage in a constant and long-term engagement with the farmers. In Ada East specifically, information is mainly provided through three channels at the local level:
Apart from these main information providers, I also identified other stakeholders that play minor roles in the information provision in Ada East. These include for-profit information providers who are mainly utilizing ICTs to disseminate information, agricultural companies as well as local input dealers, the Meteorological Agency GMA, the Irrigation Authority GIDA and radio and TV channels broadcasting weather- and farm-related information.
Information for decision-making
I also looked at whether and how information is used in decision-making. This revealed that most farmers stick to their “business as usual” practices when making seasonal decisions, such as crop or variety choice. The majority of the interviewed farmers told me that they plant the same crops and the same varieties each year. In some cases, other crops are chosen, yet these are still “known” crops that are commonly planted within their community. Most of the farmers were skeptical of new varieties and only a few were interested in conducting field experiments on small proportions of their lands to test “unknown” varieties.
In contrast to this, many farmers rely on their own observations as well as the information they receive to adjust decisions related to their seasonal and day-to-day timing. Looking at the day-to-day timing of activities the farmers reported on how they observe the rainfall to decide on whether and when to plant, harvest or apply agrochemicals to their crops. These results demonstrate the farmers’ preference to stay within the realm of known and tested practices and only diverge in terms of time adjustments.
In the final part of my thesis I focused on how information design relates to the needs of the user (i.e. a farmer). I added this aspect to my thesis because the information design crucially affects the flow and use of information.
The analysis revealed specific delivery modes and methods and information contents that foster the flow and use of information. As an example, frequent and location-specific information was observed as more useful than a country-wide weather forecast. The analysis also identified challenges related to language choice or the choice of a suitable medium which preferably allows for interactive communication. It also showed gaps within the information delivery system where stakeholders did not work well together to make the most of their resources. Additionally, legitimacy was at stake where information providers where perceived as “absent” or did not show (enough) respect for local values, beliefs and knowledge. These are just a few examples that show how certain design criteria obstruct or enhance the flow of information.
The findings boil down to the fact that very few stakeholders are strongly and regularly involved in the provision of information. Yet, the analysis shows that the provision of information alone does not influence the decisions. The influence strongly depends on how these stakeholders engage with the farmers. Thus, both a strong flow and a good information design are critical in affecting farming practices and decision-making.
My thesis has been written to enliven the academic debate about the importance of agricultural information delivery and its impact on sustainable livelihoods of farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. As part of the WaterApps project, it can be used to motivate and critically discuss the design of an information delivery system. For the WaterApps project specifically, I suggest making use of existing relations by including important intermediaries such as the extension officers and local broadcasting stations within the preparation and execution phase of the project. This can strengthen local capacities and enhance the information and knowledge generation.
Nevertheless, it would be too presumptuous to say that information alone will solve the numerous challenges. Overcoming the gaps in the generation, delivery and institutionalization of information is by far more important. The involved organizations need to become more aware of and clearly define their goals and responsibilities. Here, the creation of synergies can promote information flows. This is a future challenge which can be worked on – both in a theoretical setting as well as very practically within the district.
This blog article is based on a M.Sc thesis, 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: Rebecca Chudaska studied the Master program Environmental Sciences at Wageningen University and contributed to the Waterapps project through her M.Sc. thesis research. She would like to thank all of her interview participants as well as the Sarku family for their support during her fieldwork