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More capability, less complexity: Farmer Capability channels

Like most small-holder farmers in his area, Jeremiah Njoroge, seen above, actively seeks out useful and relevant information to support his farming enterprise. Radio happens to be top source of this information for him.

“I listen to Inooro’s ‘Sauti ya Mkulima’ programme” he says with a satisfactory grin in response to our question. “Sauti ya Mkulima (‘The Voice of the Farmer’ in English) is a radio programme that airs at 6am every day on Inooro FM, one of Kenya’s largest vernacular language radio stations. Jeremiah laughs as we inquire if he has to wake up early to listen to the show.

The same sentiments are echoed across Kenya’s rural farming landscape. A group of potato farmers in Elgeyo Marakwet, in the country’s Rift Valley, all listen to a radio program sponsored by Technoserve and Syngenta on potato farming practices that airs on a local language radio station while in Kisii, Josiah Teya listens to the 10am show on his local language radio station for information on how to maximize the yield on his Banana crop.

As farming becomes more lucrative for most sub-Saharan smallholder farmers, so to does the need for more effective capability building among these farmers. Simply put, capability building is using technology and other traditional means to provide avenues to help farmers increase their skills and effectively access and utilize financial and other value added services. Agri-centric organizations are increasingly realizing the need for farmer capability interventions to improve the Smallholder farmer’s productivity, incomes and in the case of some input manufacturers, increased sales. These interventions come in various forms from demonstrations, agricultural extension services, peer-to- peer learning, exchange visits, trainings and most recently, to the use of technology to support traditional extension services (e-extension). Through these, agri-centric organizations are able to effectively propagate the information in the form of weather, agri-tips, market information, research and developments directly to the individual farmer.

The use of technology, particularly digital and electronic media, has emerged as the most preferred means of information propagation. According to the World Bank, in 2014 Kenya had a Television penetration rate of 44.8%, Internet penetration rate of 47.3 %, Mobile Phone penetration rate of 79.1% and Radio penetration rate of 97.2%. Of noteworthy interest was the fact that a vast majority of Internet users in the country accessed online content through their mobile phones. These statistics build the case for the use of Radio shows, Television programmes, Mobile Phones and the Internet to support traditional agricultural extension services.

To illustrate this point more clearly, let’s take the case of Lucy Ngaine and Geoffrey Mutai. In the evening, while most farmers in her area are turning in for the night, Lucy, a dairy farmer in Ndaragua browses the Internet using her phone and with the help of her son to learn more about a particular breed of cattle that yield higher quantities of milk.

“I like using Google; this is how I discovered about the breed of cattle. Now I would like to know whether to get a full grown cow or a calf, I will also use Google for this” she says.

Geoffrey Mutai, a smallholder farmer in Molo growing beans and tomatoes advises another farmer facing a bird infestation on the best way to get rid of the birds on a popular Facebook group, “Mkulima Young”. Such platforms are becoming more popular as the farmers address a need to get information that is relevant to them. Similar Facebook groups include “Digitak Farmers Kenya”, “Paultry Farming”, “Youths in Farming”, “Dairy Farming Kenya”, “Kienyeji KARI Improved”, “Rabbits Breeders Kenya”, “Mkulima Market” and “Pig Farmers Kenya”.

While there are a myriad of online platforms, mobile applications, Television and radio programs aimed at the smallholder farmer, very little research has been done on the impact of such interventions on the individual recipient’s behavior.

In an attempt to address this data gap, MercyCorps Philippines designed a study aimed at quantifying the effect of an emergency programme designed to assist the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan that struck the Philippines in late 2013. One facet of the Recovery Assistance Programme entailed using some of Philippines’ most popular soap operas stories as platforms to educate the victims on financial literacy and the benefits of cash transfer services. This was implemented through Voice calls as well as Short Messaging Service (“SMS”) alerts targeting over 20,000 beneficiaries. In the course of the 12 week programme, nearly 1 million SMSs and voice calls were sent and made to the 20,000 beneficiaries using an interactive technology platform developed by engageSPARK , a Manila-based specialist IT Platform developer. Apart from passing on basic information on financial literacy, the Programme also assessed the beneficiaries’ understanding of what was being taught through the incorporation of quizzes and poll questions at the end of each episode-series as in addition to reinforcing the lesson taught.

One of the biggest lessons learnt from the 12-week study was the receptiveness to voice calls. Voice calls had a response rate of 48.2% while SMSs had a response rate of 4.5%, primarily due to the fact that Voice calls are able to reach those beneficiaries at lower literacy levels. Beneficiaries who were contacted through Voice had higher scores in the end-episode quizzes and responded much more positively to the poll questions asked at the end of each episode. A follow-up study conducted 6 months later affirmed the effectiveness of Voice media over SMS in impacting behavior change as 61.2% of those polled attributed their increased financial literacy to the Voice education sessions.

Closer to home, a study was commissioned by The Mediae Company and the University of Reading to assess the impact of the popular agricultural television show “Shamba Shape-Up” on small holder farmers. “Shamba Shape-Up” (“SSU”) brings the “Make-over” concept common with Reality Television to smallholder farms and farming, with the aim of boosting farmer productivity after viewing the agricultural show. The tables below show part of the study’s findings in relation to the farming productivity of maize and dairy.

Table 1: Respondents who recorded an improvement in their maize yields due to the practices that they have implemented

Table 1: Respondents who recorded an improvement in their maize yields due to the practices that they have implemented

Table 2: Proportion of dairy farming households recording improved yields and improved length of lactation

Table 2: Proportion of dairy farming households recording improved yields and improved length of lactation

The most common reaction to change and uncertainty is to become more risk averse. There is still a need to put more emphasis on ensuring that campaigns designed to reach the smallholder farmer are easily accessible and that will ultimately result in the increase of farmer productivity and incomes. We constantly need to gauge the reach of using such channels, replicability of the mode of communication among the various agricultural value chains, identify who bears the cost of such communication, evaluate the interactivity between the channel and the farmer, frequency of communication, the role of the farmer and ensure ability to measure the impact of such communication.

Article by Rebecca Angelah Madara, the Digital Farmer Capability Lab Manager, AgriFin Accelerate Program, Mercy Corps.

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