We are beginning to witness a paradigm shift in the tools and approaches that telecentres are using to reach out to their clientele. Rural and marginalized communities often crave for information to be food secure, healthy and educated hence improve their lives, telecentres to larger extent meet these needs. The advent of internet and computers has enabled telecentre to make a giant leap in information access, however infrastructural challenges that barred many rural communities from access has today been defeated to a greater extent by the introduction of mobile phones. I remember Dr. Shadrach mentioning the M-telecentre concept in Santiago Chile at the forum and I also begin to see more and more telecentres using mobile phones to achieve their goals and aspirations, perhaps it is time to review the tools and approaches. Mobile phone applications are taking center stage in increasing access to information to help increase quality, effectiveness and sustain processes; its convenience has made it a must have device among the rural folks.
Agricultural extension service providers are usually scarcely distributed and hardly meet the demand of rural small holder farmers. Telecentres can play a leading role in using the few ‘experts’ to reach every farmer in every corner of the villages using mobile phone. The following extension models are practiced in Kenya.
Public Extension services (Government run)
Integrated agricultural rural development approach
Attachment of officers to organizations
Farmer field schools
Progressive or model farmer approach
Training and visit to farms
Commercial Extension Services - mainly target commercial crops and large scale farmers. They are usually run by parastatals out grower companies and cooperatives
Private Extension services, these are often delivered by private companies, Non Governmental Organizations, Community Based Organizations and faith based organizations. They target the base of the pyramid – grassroots small holder farmers who are not reached or inadequately served.
Approaches and recommendations
Most small holder farmers do not experience return on investments made on their small farms because quite often it is for domestic consumption. Those who produce more lack knowledge to preserve and add value to their harvest to be able to draw more income from them or use them later. Telecentres can play a critical role in ensuring that farmers get skills in value addition. Packaging of produce, drying food stuffs like mangoes and selling as dried fruits which otherwise would rot and be disposed off and collecting extra milk produce to extract ghee among other examples are areas Telecentres can help support farmers in.
Mobilization of Produce into quantities that can be sold for large markets.
Since rural farmers produce little, telecentres can act as collection points for produce within the locality to seek larger markets on behalf of the farmers. This mobilization can also result into farmer’s forming cooperatives through which they are able to sell their produce.
Lack of information is the key course of failure in the agricultural sector, especially in rural areas where small holder farmers exist. Government agricultural extension service providers lack capacity to reach every corner of Kenya hence most rural folks do not receive these critical services. Telecentres interact and work with farmers in their programs on daily basis, they are able to offer training to farmers, organize farmer field days and exchange visits for farmers to learn from each other.
Farmers are also able to access various information through the libraries which are usually within most telecentres, Internet, magazines, fliers and information materials which the telecentre may have in its possession.
Farm inputs from government hardly reach deeply rural places, due to infrastructure challenges and lack of enough service providers. Telecentres can act as the linkage between farmers and the inputs, where each farmer registered with the telecentre receives farm input. This arrangement can be between the governments or out grower agencies that support farmers in various parts of Kenya.
By the next planting season most farmers usually lack seeds to plant, due to poor storage methods, use of the intended seeds for food or selling to take care of urgent needs. The concept of seed banking is quite useful in preserving seeds at a central point, where its quality is not compromised. The telecentre through the trust and good relations it has with the community can act as a seed bank, where good seeds can be obtained by the farmers at all planting seasons.
Information conservation – (Databases)
This has to do with the soil samples of the region’s the telecentres are situated, types of crops that do well, fertility of the soils, rainfall patterns, farm sizes, ownership and market information are some of the key examples of a database that would be in possession of every telecentre. At the click of a button this information should be available for free to the farmers and at accost to any investor who wishes to use it for their venture in the region.
Access to markets for the peasant farmers can be a nightmare, middle men often take advantage of the situation to rip off the farmers. Telecentres should provide timely information on market and prices of various commodities to enable the farmers make informed decisions. Through use of mobile phones farmers are then able to subscribe to monthly or weekly updates and are also able to ask questions through the same, this will eliminate the middle men and benefit small holder farmers.
Exit strategies from mainstream service providers
Most government and private service providers need to have an exit strategy so that when they wind up their support for a particular region, there leave a number of trained farmers who can train others but also a local institution through which farmers can relate and get more support. This is a role telecentres can play, within the communities they serve to ensure continuity of extension services.
Feedback to research institutions, advisory and extension service providers.
Collaboration between research institutes and telecentres should be a linkage that continues to provide information and support in terms of feedback to ongoing research work. It is therefore important for research institutions to work closely with telecentres in extension service provision.
Building a culture of saving amongst peasant farmers is critical in ensuring the economic sense of their efforts. Telecentres can provide the needed linkage between cooperatives and microfinance institutions that are able to support farmers to develop saving schemes that works for the farmers.