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Use of ICTs can fetch farmers more dividends

By Ronald Musoke

Judith Payne, the e-business Advisor at USAID in Washington has reminded agriculture-dependant countries like Uganda to harness the potential of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) if their farmers are to improve their livelihoods.

With about 70% of Ugandans believed to derive their livelihood directly from agriculture, Payne said governments should be working more with the private sector to come up with simple but useful applications that can help farmers to access better farm inputs, weather information and market information on time. She particularly urged government agricultural extension farmers to partner with the private sector to realize better results.

Payne was speaking on Feb.11 at Victoria University in Kampala during the monthly Mobile Monday Kampala forum on how ICTs can help farmers improve their livelihoods.

Although farmers’ productivity is far lower than it could be for a variety of reasons, many of which are out of their control, Payne noted that things can improve if farmers know about better cropping techniques, what types of seeds and fertilizers to use, and what to do if a disease breaks out. She added that even knowing their plot sizes can help them apply the right amount of inputs and save money.

A number of speakers shared information on how the private and public sector players are trying to harness resources to help Ugandan farmers use mobile phone applications, radio and video to transform them.

Thomas Ssemakula, the Chief Executive Officer of Business Rapport for Agriculture and Veterinary Enterprises (BRAVE) East Africa said ICTs can provide a host of solutions including information about weather, simple irrigation techniques, and markets that can offer premium prices for their agricultural products and do away with the exploitative middlemen.

“Farmers lack farm-record keeping skills and they need to know if they are making losses and profits and they also need applications to help them track their expenses on inputs and output,” Ssemakula said.

Payne noted that all over the world, farmers require better access to information and financial services, further noting that there is no better way than the use of ICTs. She noted that the world over, there is increasing focus on the use of ICTs in agriculture because telecommunication has become cheaper.

According to Payne, the current enabling environment that has seen good regulations coming up in much of sub-Saharan Africa for telecoms  has enabled farmers in remote communities to own and use mobile telephony.

Payne said USAID in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are targeting about 1.5 million farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to come up with ‘actionable’ agriculture information with deliberate efforts to incorporate the youth into their programme since the majority of the farmer population within the sub-region comprises youth.

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