June 2, 2017
Written by Josh Woodard
This toolkit originally appeared on ictforag.org. Reposted with permission.
For thousands of years, farmers have had extremely limited access to information sources, which has consistently reduced agricultural productivity. Agriculture is fundamentally important to human existence, not only so the population can eat, but also because the majority of the world’s poor engage in agriculture.
To maximize their productivity and earnings, farmers need a complicated mix of information resources for accurate and actionable information on topics such as planting methods, inputs (such as seeds or fertilizers), weather, disease, and markets to improve their yields and profit. Information can lead to synergies and cooperation between farmers, resulting in strengthened farmer organizations, such as cooperatives, associations, and self-help groups. It is important to remember, though, that information alone may be insufficient. Farmers also need linkages to other players in the value chain, including savings and credit providers, input dealers, aggregators, and individuals involved in markets, storage, and transportation. Without these linkages, information alone may have limited impact in boosting the earning and productivity of farmers.
Traditionally, farmers relied upon inherited practices and their personal networks for this information. The introduction of agricultural extension agents who bring expert knowledge directly to the fields of smallholding farmers over the past century in sub-Saharan Africa vastly improved upon these informal networks, but the method is expensive and difficult to scale. Whether informally through friends, publicly funded agricultural extension programs, or private agri-dealers, farmers rely on expert information to successfully cultivate their land. This need for expert information is more important than ever in the 21st century if farmers are to successfully adapt to quickly changing climates and market demands.