Providing access to agricultural knowledge

Food Security24 Jan 2013Myra Wopereis-Pura

Some African countries show that agricultural productivity and, thus, economic growth can increase significantly as access to knowledge improves and capacity strengthening activities are promoted, writes Myra Wopereis-Pura.

Household food and nutrition security and nutrition present a complex challenge for the whole world, but especially for Africa. Africa has the second biggest land mass in the world with only one quarter of the population of Asia. It is endowed with natural resources, yet the majority of its population lives below the poverty line of US$1 per day.

70% of Africa’s population depends on agriculture as a source of income. Yet, agricultural productivity remains low due to complex and diverse challenges related to e.g. sub-optimal management of natural resources, inconsistent agricultural policies, and poor access to knowledge and markets.

In recent years, Africa’s economic outlook has been changing positively with some countries achieving economic growth rates of more than 5%. Studies showed that these countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, and Burkina Faso, do not necessarily have abundant natural resources, but have succeeded in improving agriculture productivity by providing better access to knowledge and through capacity strengthening activities.

Improved access to knowledge will stimulate innovation that can drive positive changes in farming productivity and profitability and environmental stewardship, ultimately leading to improved food and nutrition security at household level. A farmer in Madagascar taught how to use internet can organize other farmers to express their own ideas on how to cope with climate change or other challenges, thereby improving their livelihoods (see:

Agricultural research institutions can become much more efficient and effective in supporting sustainable growth of the agricultural sector if their facilities and approaches to sharing knowledge are improved (FARA, 2012).

More can be done if African agricultural research, education and extension agencies work together to improve access to information and knowledge sharing among various actors in agriculture and other economic sectors such as finance and infrastructure. As a start, the budget set aside for knowledge management within these (agricultural research) institutions will have to increase from the current 0.2% to at least 10% of the total annual budget.

In 2004, FARA’s assessment of National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in Africa showed that 42% of NARS at African agricultural research institutions had weak information management capacities. An estimated 77% had unsatisfactory, unreliable and, if available, very slow internet connection within their institutions. Very few had the skills to access internet effectively.

In 2012, FARA conducted another study in 15 countries to look into the capacities of NARS in information and knowledge management. Although the methodologies used were different, it showed that NARS’ capacities in ICT had improved but that they require further investments to become more competitive in a knowledge-based economy. The majority of the institutions now have access to internet (70%), although online resources are still limited.

Most of African agricultural scientists rely on face-to-face interaction to discuss with farmers and agribusiness partners. Only 10% of research institutions use active online discussions to interact with their stakeholders. Therefore, although there is greater awareness about the use of ICT in research and dissemination of knowledge in general, ICT infrastructure and policies are still rudimentary.

The capacities of Africa’s national agricultural research, education and extension NARS to manage information therefore need to be strengthened. This includes data management, facilitation of knowledge exchange, use of online resources and targeted information delivery through a mix of communication channels including mobile phones. It should be noted that video and audio channels remain major sources of information for farming communities.

It is necessary to link research, education, policy-making and extension work. The above interventions should be included, but can only have greater impact if there is a comprehensive information and knowledge management strategy, adapted to the specific needs and capacities of institutions. It can improve the efficiency of agricultural research, education and extension in delivering products and services to civil society and governments, aimed at improved agricultural productivity and livelihoods in Africa.