The World Bank, recently provided funds to Ghana for the establishment of the country’s first ever electronic agriculture program (“e-agriculture) aimed at modernizing agricultural production.
The “e-Agriculture” is an emerging field in the intersection of agricultural informatics, agricultural development and entrepreneurship, referring to agricultural services, technology dissemination, and information delivered or enhanced through the Internet and related technologies.
Specifically it involves the conceptualization, design, development, evaluation and application of innovative ways to use existing or emerging Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) across the entire domain with a primary focus on agriculture.
The e-Agriculture goes beyond technology, to promote the integration of technology with multimedia, knowledge and culture, with the aim of improving communication and learning processes between various actors in agriculture locally, regionally and world-wide.
Facilitation, support of standards and norms, technical support, capacity building, education, and extension are all key components to e-Agriculture.
Currently, several types of activities related to e-Agriculture applications are widely recognized around the world today. The delivery of agricultural information and knowledge services such as market prices, extension services, technology, policies, programmes and projects using the Internet and related technologies fall under the definition of e-Agriculture.
More advanced applications of e-Agriculture in farming exist in the use of sophisticated ICTs such as satellite systems, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), advanced computers and electronic systems to improve the quantity and quality of production.
The type of information relevant to e-Agriculture may include: farming techniques and practices, agricultural inputs and technology, agricultural markets/ market information, science and research, data/statistics, environment, climatic changes and training and capacity building.
The e-Agriculture is widely seen to be a contributing factor to the achievement of broader development goals, such as more secure livelihoods, enhanced poverty reduction, food security, agricultural and environmental sustainability, trade, conservation etc.
The e-Agriculture is a global Community of Practice, where people from all over the world exchange information, ideas, and resources related to the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for sustainable agriculture and rural development.
The e-Agriculture is considered a platform to enable agricultural experts and community members to exchange opinions, experiences, good practices and resources related to e-Agriculture, and to ensure that the knowledge created is effectively shared and used worldwide.
Farming community members and other stakeholders interact with each other through regular forums and community networking, to contribute to a range of resources to the platform, including case studies, success stories, lessons learnt, documents, links, learning resources, news and announcements.
Priorities for consideration in the proposed e-Agriculture community are information exchange, sharing and communication processes in the following areas:
1. Developing virtual communities and networks for information and knowledge exchange between rural stakeholders, as well as for their empowerment through participation;
2. Capacity building of rural stakeholders in use and application of ICT;
3. Enhancing farmers and other stakeholders access to markets and information on farming techniques and practices;
4. Improving dissemination of and access to scientific and technical information;
5. Enhancing access to statistics and other types of information for policy and decision making.
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Goal 8, Target 8f states, “In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies especially information and communication”.
The World Summit Information Society (WSIS) Plan of Action being facilitated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), includes e-Agriculture as an area of application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) under Action Line 7:
• Ensure the systematic dissemination of information using ICTs on agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, forestry and food, in order to provide ready access to comprehensive, up-to-date and detailed knowledge and information, particularly in rural areas.
• Public-private partnerships should seek to maximize the use of ICTs as an instrument to improve production, marketing and food safety standards.
FAO has initiated a strategic Programme for Bridging the Rural Digital Divide (BRDD) 9 , aimed at harnessing its various activities to contribute to efforts to reduce food insecurity and poverty.
The rationale for the BRDD Programme is that the rural digital divide is not only concerned with technology infrastructure and connectivity, but rather is a multi-faceted problem of ineffective knowledge exchange and management of information content, as well as the lack of human resources, institutional capacity, and sensitivity to gender and the diverse needs of different groups. FAO further stated categorically, “Strengthening the Agricultural Value Chain with ICT”.
As a member state of 191-nations of the United Nations, the implementation of e-Agriculture in Ghana, is in line with its commitment to achieve all targets under the MDGs through the application of Action Line 7 under the WSIS Plan of Action.
e-Agriculture also brings Ghana closer to achieving its ICT4D target of significantly enriching citizens’ socio-economic and cultural well-being through rapid development and modernization of agriculture
This will go a long way to tackle poverty because one of the most effective ways of reducing poverty is to invest in and make improvements in the agricultural sector. Even after years of industrialization and growth in services, agriculture still accounts for one-third of the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and three-quarters of employment in sub-Saharan Africa. Available evidence reveals that sustainable poverty reduction can only be possible through economic growth and development strategies (FAO, 2012) with agriculture being a key driver.
Finally, the implementation of e-Agriculture will promote the fulfilment of the mission of MoFA to enhance sustainable agriculture and thriving agribusiness through research and technology development, effective extension and other support services to farmers, processors and traders for improved livelihood.
It will also address the shortfall of adequate dissemination and adoption of successful technologies generated from West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP) and facilitate the dissemination of the good practices and new innovations.
OBJECTIVES OF e-AGRICULTURE
The overall goal of the e-Agriculture is to create a multi-stakeholder, people-centred, cross-sectored platform that will bring together stakeholders representing relevant constituencies of e-Agriculture that will result in agriculture modernization; and increase agricultural production and productivity. The specific objectives of the e-Agriculture include:
1. Clear the bottlenecks experienced by e-extension pilot under WAAPP through the following activities.
• By involving other directorate and stakeholders in the timely delivery of agricultural services to farmers
• Establishing a multi-stakeholder and directorate portal for an effective knowledge creation and sharing.
• To give farmers affordable direct access to content through modern technologies like the mobile phone, reducing extension officer to farmer ratio from an initial average of 1:3000 to 1:1
• The need to get direct support service through a well-established inter directorate Call centre to provide timely support to farmers.
• Enhancing the entire agricultural value chain through effective knowledge sharing without limits to language, literacy, distance, and affordability.
2. Review and assessment functions of the agriculture extension at MOFA.
3.Organize-centric applications to collect, collate, store, archive and share information with business users and various applicable support functions on a need-to-know basis.
4. Provide different views of data for their performance optimization with end-user centric applications.
5.Improve dissemination of information and the website delivering information about the research activities, partners, key stakeholders and other information.
6. Promote and facilitate the establishment of public-private partnerships in the collation and dissemination of agricultural information both nation-wide and world-wide.
7. Promote and support the development of local content in local languages. Local language content will improve the accessibility and inclusiveness of ICT applications. It will also serve as an opportunity to capture and record local practices and knowledge
8. Sensitize ICT programming—using conventional methods such as (radio, television etc.) and current initiatives like mobile phone, are emerging new opportunities. Use of a range of ICTs, while the inclination may be to find ways of integrating the most cutting-edge technology into value chains, practitioners should recognize the infrastructure constraints that can limit the effectiveness of these technologies.
9. Reduce farming risks information on weather, production and cultivation techniques, seeds and fertilizers, plant nutrients, and water usage.
10. Reduce knowledge gaps and increase knowledge sharing for increasing productivity and boosting growth in rural areas.
11. Improve the knowledge, skills and competencies of staff of MOFA, farmers and other stakeholders in many areas including.
• Expand agricultural extension services to help smallholders to access and take advantage of modern information and communication technology;
•Employ scienceâ€based approaches, and local and indigenous knowledge, while undertaking research and development, to improve plant varieties, livestock and soil. Encourage development and adoption of locally appropriate farming systems and agricultural practices;
• Promote the use of soil conservation, sound water management and improvement techniques to improve food and agriculture production and productivity;
• Improve nutrient management and nutrient use efficiency
• Strengthen research, education and extension that advances the practice of sustainable agriculture and rural development;
• Improve linkages among research, instruction in schools and universities, and diffusion of knowledge by extension services;
• Strengthen multiâ€stakeholder participation and partnerships in the food and agriculture sector and;
• Diffuse more widely preâ€and postâ€harvest technologies to minimize post-harvest losses.
COMPONENTS OF e-AGRICULTURE
E-AGRICULTURE PORTAL (WWW.E-AGRICULTURE.GOV.GH)
This will serve as a knowledge and operational process management platform that integrates research/content from the various stakeholders for end user support. The overriding objective of developing the e-Agriculture Portal is to provide a platform for farmers, management and staff of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and other stakeholders to share knowledge, skills and experiences in agriculture business.
The portal which is accessible at www.e-agriculture.gov.gh incorporates links to national and international research partners’ and stakeholders’ website, Multimedia item, publications, presentations, webmail and registration and verification platform for staff of various stakeholders and officials of the office
The features of the portal include profiles of the various actors in the agriculture value chain, online discussion fora, general and specialized agriculture information and databases, agriculture statistical data, various type of contacts and the option for corporate value chain actors to upload their profiles.
Additionally the portal provide access to information on agribusiness opportunities, information on various funding opportunities and training opportunities and schedules.). The portal is linked to the e-extension portal which links to the extension field reporting mobile application. This is to facilitate prompt response on field report from the appropriate stakeholders.
TOLL-FREE INTERACTIVE VOICE RESPONSE (IVR)
This component covers a toll-free multilingual local Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system accessible on 30037 on MTN. This will serve as farmer audio library where users will use their standard mobile phones to call the system toll- free for content approved by the appropriate stakeholders. The setup provides effective communication and collaborative platform support for the entire value chain to create an informed farmer who expects better profits and gets integrated into the more enhanced agricultural commercialization network.
Currently the IVR provides information on best farm practices for cassava, yam, cocoyam, rice and maize in twelve local languages in Ga, Twi, Dagbani, Frafra, Ewe and Nzema anytime, anywhere. The system currently has over 86,000 active farmers on this platform and 1.6million unique calls onto the service for 2014 alone (MTN 30037).
The information resource/and e-agriculture laboratory will focus extensively on all the aspects of agriculture. The central idea is to offer training on project planning, agricultural entrepreneurship to enable our local farmers devise strategic project plans that can make significant differences in their lives.
The resource centre will serve as a laboratory for experimental work, adaptive agricultural research/ trials and mapping out clear means of disseminating existing ground-breaking agricultural techniques. The center will be used for farmer information and technology training center to promote youth in agriculture. The centers are situated in Accra, Kumasi, and Tamale.
MULTIDIRECTORATE CALL CENTER
The Ministry of Food and Agriculture under the Government of Ghana through WAAPP established the e-Agriculture multi-directorate call center to facilitate agricultural advisory and extension services within the value chain.
The call center, which is housed in the Accra Resource Centre will serve as a third tier support to farmers beyond the public extension system and the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. Issues concerning agriculture and allied sectors raised by callers will be addressed instantly by representatives (Technical officers) from the various directorates of MoFA in selected local languages.
Any stakeholder within the agricultural sector may contact the call center by dialing the toll-free 1848 on MTN.
THE CALL CENTER INFRASTRUCTURE
The call center infrastructure,consists of telecommunication and computer systems as well as other resources organized to manage the queries raised by farmers instantly in the local language .Generally it refers to a voice contact center that provides a full range of call handling services such as customer support, direct assistance, multi-lingual customer support and other services.
This is a whole new experience in agriculture extension management, which makes use of existing and emerging ICTs to serve the farming community especially those in remote areas of the country and other stakeholders in the agricultural value chain. This will help extend reach and widen impact for the public extension system, which was crippled with inadequate resources. The establishment of the call center will enable establishment of close linkages and seamless communication mechanism among the key stakeholders in the agricultural system namely research institutions, agricultural policy makers, extension agents, farmers, input suppliers, aggregators etc.
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