In recent years growing attention has been given to use of ICT and adoption of improved technologies within the farming setting in both developed and developing countries. In the developing world this is generally in order to tackle low agricultural productivity amongst smallholders who are the major producers of food crops and to foster their adoption of GAP technologies to meet the food needs of ever-increasing populations. However, traditional approaches to knowledge exchange and extension has limitations in many countries. Given its potential amongst rural farmers, combined mobile phone-SMS text reminders and GAP participatory training could significantly promote greater adoption amongst farmers. Little is known about this unique approach in facilitating farmer adoption of GAP technologies in developing economies and, specifically, no Nigerian study has been found that examines such a role amongst rural communities.
The principal aim was to evaluate smallholder uptake of Good Agricultural Practices and whether tactical use of ICT (SMS text reminders) can improve adoption of practices to enhance the effectiveness of extension to farmers. Secondly, the study sought to evaluate the use of ICT in relation to market communications.
After a critical review of smallholder farming, extension and the use of ICT in communications, focus group discussions, household survey questionnaires and an in-depth constructivist case study were used. As such the study can be categorised as a participatory research methods using mixed methods triangulation strategy to address the study aims and objectives. Field studies in Nigeria involved three phases:
After introducing the purpose of the study to two communities, the first phase focused on baseline livelihoods survey and an evaluation of farming practices. From the two closely related communities (Bassawa and Shika) in northern Nigeria, a total of 200 smallholder farmers were selected for the survey. The communities were located close together; however, in 2012 the Bassawa community had benefited from the NAERLS Adopted Village Concept community initiative.
The second phase focused on GAP participatory training, the development of a lead-farmer extension model, extension visits, SMS text reminders, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with both extension workers and farmers.
The third phase included evaluation survey questionnaires of the effectiveness of GAP participatory training, impact of SMS text reminders and barriers to adoption of GAP technologies. In addition, the use of SMS linked to market strategies was reviewed.
Whilst quantitative data were analysis using SPSS and descriptive statistics, qualitative data were thematically analysed.
Overall, this study found that 13 GAP technologies were fully adopted, and the interviews as well as the evaluating survey provided a richer understanding of the motivating factors that triggered the adoption. These included GAP participatory training, access to timely information via SMS text reminders, access to extension visits and trust invested in the lead farmers. The study also found that the farmers who received SMS reminders estimated that they had a 42% increase in their agricultural productivity as a result of GAP intervention in the community. The thesis also identified a couple of barriers influencing extension delivery and found that mobile phones can be tactically used to support traditional extension and communication.
To address the identified barriers to smallholders improving the sustainability of their agricultural practices there is the need for a radical reform in agricultural extension in Nigeria. The focus of this reform should consider building capacity in good agricultural practices in extension staff and lead farmers so that they can disseminate such practices. Throughout, such capacity building should seek to empower decision making in farmers. In order to address the high farmer to extension worker ratios, there is a need to extend rural ICT facilities and link extension staff to lead farmers while encouraging clusters of farmers around each lead farmer. In addition to facilitated training, the use of timely reminders via SMS has the potential to improve uptake of practices. The thesis develops a new model for mobile technology supporting traditional extension approaches in order to improve extension services to smallholder farmers in Nigeria. Currently, the extension officer ratio to famers in Nigeria is 1:3000, however, the new model revealed that if each extension officer has a portfolio of 300 lead farmers working with them and each lead farmer has 10 trainee farmers locally, then extension officer is directly communicating with 300 farmers and indirectly contacting 3000 smallholder farmers. Moreover, if the extension officer then have the ability to communicate with these smallholder farmers through Mobile phone technology as supposed to travelling to villages by car or motorcycle considering the restriction of bad roads network. Then the extension officer can remind farmers on what to do via contact of the lead farmers through SMS text. This actually means instantaneously all the farmers would get the text message at the right time. Meanwhile, extension visit to smallholder farmers in the villages would take the officer more than two weeks.