Don’t underestimate the African farmer

Farmer includsion at the inception of agricultural development projects can ensure that results are need driven and technology is rapidly applied.

Smith: Farmer includsion at the inception of agricultural development projects can ensure that results are need driven and technology is rapidly applied.

I am greatly impressed by what I see as I walk from booth to booth at the Accra International Conference Centre. Many of those who are gathered here are exhibiting their current work and new innovations. All are aimed at one thing: Improving the agricultural sector in Africa.

The 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week organized by FARA has provided a great opportunity to converge the region’s researchers, policymakers, scientists, farmers, donors and innovators all under one roof. Everyone here is putting forward their best ideas on how to push this continent forward, employing science and technology to achieve agricultural development and food security.

But with all this wealth of knowledge, shouldn’t we have been seeing the results ages ago? What is the disconnect between the technical know-how and actually increasing agricultural output on the level of the smallholder farmers?

Many people still picture African farmers as uneducated and unable to handle modern technologies; the proverbial ‘old dogs’ that can’t be taught ‘new tricks.’ This is not the case, however, and many farmers — even those in the rural settings — have become technologically adept. In Kenya for instance, technology has become easily accessible through mobile applications that do not require internet connections.

Using mobile technology, farmers can send a short text inquiring about the type of crop to plant in their home areas, ones that would be a good match for the soils and that would yield well under the climatic conditions. There are other applications that also deal with livestock management or pest control.

Speaking in an interview, Steve Muchiri, CEO of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation, called for the speedy delivery of modern technologies to farmers.

“If you go to any farmer today and tell them that using a particular technology will help increase yields, then they will no doubt try to learn more about how to use it,” he said. Farmers have in fact demonstrated that they are surprisingly willing to try out new techniques — anything to boost production and secure adequate food sources.

Mr. Muchiri noted that farmers have also learned to avoid ‘scavengers,’ opportunists masquerading as middlemen between farmers and aid organizations only to siphon off donor money for themselves.

ILRI director general Jimmy Smith explained that the ‘scavenger’ problem has led many research institutions working in Africa to restructure their programs and research to include farmers right from the early stages, effectively eliminating opportunities for middlemen to get involved.

“To increase the uptake of modern technologies that are helpful to farmers, many organizations are focusing on need-driven research,” said Smith. “They have also established ways of ensuring that information is easily accessible to farmers so that they can always provide their input.”

He added that a concerted effort by all research institutes would  help bridge the existing knowledge and actualization gaps and speed technology uptake in rural areas.

Blog post by Sandra Chao, a social media reporter for AASW6.

Photo: ILRI

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