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Business News of Saturday, 21 November 2020

Source: GNA

More partnerships and investments in digital agriculture needed amid coronavirus pandemic

COVID-19 has limited face-to-face interactions between extension officers and farmers COVID-19 has limited face-to-face interactions between extension officers and farmers

Mr Paul Siameh, the Director of Agriculture Extension Services at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, has called for more investments in digital agriculture products to address current and emerging challenges.

He explained that the continuous collaboration between the government, development partners and the private sector towards the development of more digital solutions to reach farmers with climate-smart practices, improved inputs, information on post-harvest and other improved farming practices especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic was critical in achieving Ghana’s food security through the Planting for Food and Jobs programme.

Mr Siameh made the call during a virtual conference jointly organised by Farmerline, a Ghanaian agritech company, and the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in Accra.

The conference was on the theme: “Influencing farmer behaviour change: Relevant lessons for the new normal.”

He noted that the pandemic had limited face-to-face interactions between extension officers and farmers, hence the need to devise an innovative approach to reach farmers.

Mr Siameh urged agritech companies to conduct more research and develop community-specific digital tools and applications to propel smooth dissemination of information to farmers in remote communities.

Ms Lily Akorfa Keledorme the Head of Partner and Farmer Engagement at Farmerline, said COVID-19 had shown the importance of technology in extending services to farmers in diverse locations.

She stated due to Farmerline’s way of operating – adopting technology and digitising all of its operations – the company easily extended critical interventions to farmers and agents amid the COVID-19 era.

“With the existence of COVID, we cannot make ourselves available on the field every time so we must have systems like the Farmer Helpline so we can be able to support the farmers and install systems that agents can use to track the performance of farmers,” she said.

Ms Keledorme said a study conducted by Farmerline also revealed that a blend of in-person training and digital tools play an important role in driving the adoption of best farming practices because “it is cost-effective and scalable.” She noted that 73% of them have started planning & allocating resources for the next season.

“I would want to reiterate that the blended approach of training farmers is something we should look at more because it deepens the engagement levels of farmers. It helps them to adopt the practices that we teach them and in this COVID era, digital tools will play a key role in helping farmers to increase their yields and profits,” she said.

Dr Rufaro Madakadze, the Senior Program Officer for Extension and Capacity Building Unit at AGRA, noted that the essence of employing digital tools in the delivery of essentials services to farmers through the Village Based Advisor (VBA) model, urging stakeholders in the agriculture sector to accept reality and switch to the new ways of doing things.

“AGRA has also adopted digital tools in reaching out to our agents and trainers and it makes it easier to reach out to more farmers in a large setting, delivering relevant content and information and preventing the transmission of COVID,” she said.

Mr Benjamin Fiafor Country Representative for Farm Radio International, underscored the power of radio in influencing the behaviour of farmers, saying “Up to 40 percent of farmers who learn about a new practice through a radio program supported by Farm Radio International end up applying it on their farm.”

Mr Maxwell Olupot, the Partnerships, Planning and Learning Specialist at African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services called for collective action among stakeholders in the agriculture sector to empower more farmers through the evolving Farmer Business School approach to adopt best practices, improve yields, and ensure food security.