The Rice Advice application is already being used by 17,000

16.06.2017

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Poor farming practices are among the numerous reasons for low productivity in sub-Saharan Africa. However, a major share of farmers only have limited access to information and knowledge, also owing to insufficient numbers of extension workers. The article below uses the example of the rice and cocoa value chain to show how mobile-based ICT solutions can contribute to closing this gap.

Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the poorest regions in the world in terms of living standards. Over 60 per cent of the population are considered extremely poor, earning less than two US dollars per day per person. The population in rural areas mostly engage in farming, and their agricultural productivity is generally low. Thus, enhancing agricultural productivity is essential for improving livelihoods and food security. Reasons for low productivity include biophysical factors (e.g. poor soil fertility, variable weather conditions), constraints related to policies, markets, and institutional arrangements and poor farming practices, the issue this article focuses on.

Having access to information and knowledge is a key driver for improving farming practices. But limited numbers of public extension workers in sub-Saharan Africa mean that farmers often have only poor access to extension services, or none at all. At less than 3,000:1, the ratio between farmers and extension workers does not allow intensive and individual assistance. With knowledge as a crucial development factor in the agricultural sector, interventions to strengthen and support these services are varied and long-standing. Alternative options for improving farmers’ access to knowledge are increasingly found in information and communication technology (ICT) solutions. Mobile device-based ICT solutions play an important role, considering ever cheaper smartphones and the advancements of ICT in sub-Saharan Africa. These conditions have triggered the innovation of various ICT solutions in agriculture, enhancing the scale-out and dissemination of information and knowledge on recommended management practices for staple crops and export commodities at comparably low costs.

This article highlights ICT solutions in the agricultural sector (ICT4Ag), using the example of one staple crop and one export commodity. Rice is one of the most important staple crops in the region. Nevertheless, local supply currently only covers 60 per cent of local demand because of low yields. Expected increases in population during the next decades make the enhancement and expansion of local rice production essential for food security.

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