Agriculture and Livestock Minister EMMANUEL has called for increased utilization of Information Technology in enhancing agricultural development.
Mr CHENDA says information technology should be used to easy communication between farmers and agricultural stakeholders.
Mr CHENDA said this in Lusaka when he launched the National Agricultural Information Services (NAIS) Short Messaging System (SMS) platform supported by the International Institute for Communications Development (IICD).
He said the initiative by NAIS staff in coming up with the SMS platform will enable farmers in rural areas of the country to keep in touch with subject matter specialists in his ministry and close the communication gap between farmers and agricultural stakeholders.
He noted that the platform culminates from the lessons learnt in the first phase of the project which was aimed at improving information flow between agricultural information sources and the end users by improving the efficiency of NAIS to gather, process, store, package and disseminate information in order to increase farmers’ productivity.
Mr. CHENDA further said the SMS platform will modernize the feedback reporting system used by Radio farm Forums with the online database.
“This entails that farmers will be able to use their mobile phones to send questions directly to the radio producers of the language they are conversant with and receive answers in real time”.
However, Mr. CHENDA noted that the current cost of K900 per SMS was too expensive for farmers and appealed to the Zambia Information Communication Authority (ZICTA) to consider waiver the cost to enable farmers have access to innovation.
“The SMS costs K900 is on the higher side and initiatives by the department have been made to request ZICTA help waiver this rate by allocating NAIS with a short-code so as to enable more farmers have easy and cheaper access to the platform”.
Meanwhile, IICD Country Programme Manager for Zambia THERESA STANTON says information and communication technology contribute to many innovations.
She said the challenge is for information providers to think out of the box in order to come up with new, fast and effective ways of getting hold of information needed to stabilize and enhance livelihoods of rural communities.
Ms. STANTON stressed that the combination of traditional and modern ICTs, specifically radio and SMS messaging, makes both as powerful technologies and the information requests that NAIS receives from Zambia’s farmers will enable radio broadcasters to track and trace the questions and see clearly what is happening in the agricultural sector.
“An added benefit is that frequently asked questions can later be used to determine the themes of the radio programmes that NAIS broadcasts, and ultimately contribute to agricultural research”.
She further said that the NAIS SMS platform illustrates how ICTs can be easily adapted and fine-tuned to respond to the needs of the farmers.
“Let us learn from NAIS’s experiences – from the successes and challenges along the way – so that all of us can begin using ICT as a catalyst to achieve our own development goals in the agricultural sector.
Ms. STANTON added that for systems like these to succeed and be sustained, they need government support and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock is therefore in the best position to take the lead in this initiative and drive it forward.
She further called on all stakeholders to work together and explore how ICT can be used – simply and effectively – to assist Zambian farmers achieve food security, a greener economy, and economic success.
And NAIS Deputy Director MUTUKELWA MUKELABAI says the SMS system will help addressing the challenges his department has been facing in disseminating agricultural information.
He said the setting up of the ICT project in his department has enabled agricultural information officers in NAIS have easy access to proven up-to-date information sources that are available on the Internet.
And giving a vote of thanks at the same function, Mrs. MARY MULENGA a small scale farmer from Kasama said as farmers, they have been facing many problems in carrying out the farming activities.
“Among the problems we have been facing, is lack of timely information”.
Mrs. MULENGA said it takes long time for farmers to get feedback on various questions farmers ask the experts in agriculture as the post office is the only means of sending and receiving information in rural areas.
She said the SMS platform will enable farmers receive agricultural information in time.
“Northern Province has poor radio reception. Even when there is a response on radio to the farmers’ questions, farmers miss the message due to poor radio reception”.
She said with the SMS platform in place, farmers are confident that they will get timely feedback especially that most agricultural camps in the country are not manned.