Digital technology: Vital for delivery of extension services among smallholder farmers in Africa.

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Digital devices. Photo Credit – Marvin Meyer.

Climate Change impacts food production and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The transformation of agricultural practices is essential for food security, nutrition, resilience, and livelihood improvement. With the current advancements, digital technologies play a crucial role in agri-food strategies leading to more climate-smart systems. Capacity building of the next generation of climate-smart farmers using technologies such as mobile phones, social media, videos and animations, and other digital platforms would enhance the delivery of information to farmers to improve productivity and stable livelihoods.  Broader coverage and technological advancements such as the internet and digital devices must be available and accessible. Also, through transmission techniques, many farmers may access or be reached with agricultural information within a short time.  Despite hindrances such as poor infrastructures, illiteracy, and financial, political, and cultural barriers, digital farming techniques in Sub-Saharan Africa requires a collaboration of farmers, government, and other stakeholders to implement digital approaches. 

Key findings (Sharma et al., 2020) reveal that there is technological advancement in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and initiatives about digital agriculture have evolved across the world. The role of media such as radio, television, and mobile phones in information to smallholder farmers is recognized. However, it is critical to research whether farmers can produce or document, and disseminate relevant agricultural information materials using technology such internet, uploaded online and downloaded by other farmers and stakeholders. It will enhance the sustainability of farming practices and enable farmers to earn income from downloaded materials. Therefore, direct engagement of farmers is potential as farming requirements change from time to time due to changing agricultural technologies, policies, and innovations.

Some initiatives that deliver information to farmers in different countries include videos, animations, and social platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and other mobile applications.

Camera, Source - Screenpost
  1. Participatory videos: Farmers in Bangladesh followed video instructions to prepare organic manure through waste management (Sarker, Chowdhury, Miah, Aurangozeb, & Peloschek, 2011). Similarly, farmers in Ethiopia produced videos in local languages and trained extension agents and other community-based agents to share the videos in existing community settings to introduce the improved agronomic practices and also mediate a discussion around the video screening to ensure questions can be asked, make clarifications, seek feedback. Extension agents show the videos using Pico battery-powered projectors to overcome internet and electricity challenges. Shortened versions of videos are also shared digitally via WhatsApp or Telegram, for farmers with access to smartphones and connectivity. Photo Credit: Andrea

2. Animations: The study (Maredia et al., 2018) in Burkina Faso revealed that mobile phone-based animated videos are the potential to induce learning about post-harvest cowpea drying and storing technologies among low-literate farmers in Burkina Faso. The animations were created by researchers as instructional videos, to expose users to concepts and increase accessibility and dissemination of knowledge to as many farmers as possible.

3. Mobile phones: Mobile phones have enabled information access among farmers with reduced the cost of information searching while making possible access to markets (Simelane, Lall, & Kogeda, 2019). The study by (Simelane et al., 2019) indicated that most farmers in rural Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal owned mobile phones and Java programming language was used in application development that enhanced both smart and featured phones to deliver extension services to farmers. It was recommended to include more local languages in the application to encourage engagement and support between extension officers and the rural farmers. In Nigeria, apart from making calls, calculations, and viewing time, the majority of farmers in the North Senatorial Zone of Kaduna State (Haruna, Jamilu, Abdullahi, & Murtala, 2013) used mobile phones for sourcing information about extension services. However, most farmers are faced with challenges such as the high cost of subscription, electricity, and poor quality of mobile phones.

4. Facebook: As indicated earlier that internet expansion is growing in SSA, research (Wahiu, Lohento, & Koutchade, 2020) revealed that 99% of Vijabiz youth groups in Kenya used mobile phones while 29% used computers. Also, the mobile money (M-PESA) application was used for mobile transactions, and the spreadsheet program was used for record keeping. Greenthumb CBO, another youth in Kenya used Facebook to conduct online discussions about fish production. Most youths had engaged in fish farming because of the availability of information, markets, and solutions to the challenges enhanced by the discussions and interactions.

5. WhatsApp: Through WhatsApp Wazojema group used smartphones to interact with customers. They send product photos to clients and products were delivered by motorcycle. Payments were made through mobile money transactions after confirmation of the delivery. There were technical experts such as livestock officers and business mentors within the group who supported with advice on pests and diseases challenges and other business mentorships respectively.

Other technologies: Wefarm technology, a worldwide farmer-to-farmer digital network initiated in 2015 in Kenya (Omulo & Kumeh, 2020) enabled farmers to register on the platform with access to ask agricultural production questions and received responses via SMS and online chat services. Through wefarm, a social enterprise, voluntary and open platform farmers connected to other farmers and sorted a variety of agricultural challenges. The platform was successful with over 1.8 million farmers registered in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania with over 4 million questions posed gaining 9.6 million responses (Omulo & Kumeh, 2020).

Digital Divide: In most countries, digital technologies are applied in the agricultural sector, and farmers face challenges such as the cost of ICT devices, internet subscriptions, and poor and unreliable connectivity. Limited access to improved agricultural knowledge due to inadequate infrastructure. On the other hand, knowledgeable youths migrate to urban areas for job opportunities, therefore, reducing the digital know-how in rural areas. Lack of skills on how to use the internet and social media for agribusiness thus hindered most youth and women from participating in agribusiness.

Conclusion and recommendation: Facebook may be the best media channel to share documented information because it is widely accessed, less expensive, and easy to use, used by many youths and customers. The presence of youth groups in villages capable of using computers with spreadsheets and smart mobile phones to perform several operations means the possibility to use the devices for recording and uploading. Capacity building and facilitation may influence the successful implementation of such initiatives. Additionally, collaboration among young farmers, organizations, government, and other stakeholders is the potential for digital technologies through initiatives such as farmer field schools, farmers associations, and numerous groups in the areas. 

Lastly, the groups can be pillars of documenting farming practices and disseminating online that other farmers elsewhere can use the materials and improve agricultural productivity. Furthermore, farmers can develop a business model for income generation through downloaded materials. More research is needed to influence the number of farmers to digitally document and share farming practices with other farmers.



Haruna, S., Jamilu, A., Abdullahi, A., & Murtala, G. (2013). Ownership and Use of Mobile Phone Among Farmers in North Senatorial Zone of Kaduna State. Journal of Agricultural Extension, 17(2), 47-54.

Maredia, M. K., Reyes, B., Ba, M. N., Dabire, C. L., Pittendrigh, B., & Bello-Bravo, J. (2018). Can mobile phone-based animated videos induce learning and technology adoption among low-literate farmers? A field experiment in Burkina Faso. Information Technology for Development, 24(3), 429-460.

Omulo, G., & Kumeh, E. M. (2020). Farmer-to-farmer digital network as a strategy to strengthen agricultural performance in Kenya: A research note on ‘Wefarm’platform. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 158, 120120.

Sarker, M., Chowdhury, A., Miah, M., Aurangozeb, M., & Peloschek, F. (2011). Participatory Rural Video Centre in Fostering Women’s Voices-A Model from Bangladesh. Extension Farming Systems Journal, 7(2), 27-32.

Simelane, P., Lall, M., & Kogeda, O. (2019). A mobile phone application for agricultural extension in marginalised rural areas of Pongola region, Zululand district, South Africa. South African Journal of Agricultural Extension, 47(1), 137-150.

Wahiu, R., Lohento, K., & Koutchade, F. (2020). ICT uses by rural youth in Kenya: Perspectives from the Vijabiz project.

About margareth-mollel

MScCCAFS student at the Ryan Institute, National University of Ireland Galway aims at supporting communities transform agriculture and food systems, and adapt to the climate change impacts for sustainable development!