The authors discuss the public sector’s efforts to introduce e-extension at the county level in Kenya.
Agricultural extension services refer to organisations that support people engaged in agricultural production. These services play a major role in disseminating knowledge, technologies and agricultural information to improve livelihoods in rural areas. Agricultural information resource centres, agricultural shows, demonstration farms and plots are all important sources of knowledge. Investments in agricultural extension services generally compare favourably with those made in agricultural research, which suggests its importance in overall agricultural development. All the more reason, then, to continue to warm authorities to the idea of e-extension, which is a more efficient alternative to traditional extension because it maximises the use of ICTs.
The Agricultural Information Resource Centre (AIRC) in Kenya is a semi-autonomous government agency. Set up in 1996, the centre’s primary role was to provide agricultural information through media channels such as radio and video and the distribution of printed technical materials. The centre also provided extension skills training to farmers, extension staff and other stakeholders. Recent educational AIRC videos have been uploaded to YouTube for easy access and have attracted 2,580 subscribers and over 700,000 viewers, mainly from Kenya, Canada, the United States and India. AIRC’s website also provides technical digital material and is connected to several national and international credible sources of agricultural information.
The former ministry of agriculture – now the State Department of Agriculture – started an e-extension project in 2013 to use ICTs to make extension service delivery more efficient and effective. Since then, AIRC staff have teamed up to develop an e-extension training curriculum that uses Web2forFDev tools and mobile apps to adopt ICT innovations in agricultural development. The manual was then used to train frontline extension workers, and by June 2014, more than 600 staff had been trained and equipped with e-extension kits comprising a smartphone, a mini-laptop and a modem.
Since Kenya adopted a new constitution in 2010, agricultural extension services have been devolved to the county level, while policy formulation has been left in the hands of the national government and AIRC. AIRC conducted an assessment in March 2015 to gauge e-extension adoption in various counties. The assessment showed that county politics undermined e-readiness in these counties to adopt e-extension services.
Changing the mindset
To begin with, the main agenda of political authorities in Kenya’s counties is re-election in 2017. They tend to prefer infrastructure development projects – ones that are physically tangible for citizens– such as roads, cattle dips, agri-business industries and the provision of farm inputs. These kinds of ‘hardware’ projects are given priority over more intangible ‘software’ projects and technology transfer services, such as extension services and farmers’ field days. The prospect of re-election means that funds are often directed to these physically tangible projects. Indeed, most of the county staff interviewed complained that they were demoralised because they lacked the facilities to implement their extension work plans.
Some staff were trained in e-extension, however, and learned how to use Web2forDev tools and innovative and cost-effective means of reaching out to farmers. This approach has reduced the overall cost of extension in their respective wards. One such extension worker is Daniel Kefa, who has made a name for himself by using Twitter to communicate with extension staff and farmers. He is an agricultural officer in Nakuru county and has overcome the odds by using social media tools to provide sorely needed agricultural extension services in the area. His success has not come easy, however. He has to contend with a lack of internet bundles and the low awareness among farmers on the use of mobile apps to access extension services.
The most notable change in the staff that received training in e-extension is a different attitude towards adopting ICTs in their daily work. Perhaps not surprisingly, those who did not receive training in e-extension were apathetic towards the initiative. There were exceptions. Viginia Gitau, senior chief agricultural officer in a sub–county in Nakuru county embraced the concepts of the initiative and is learning about e-extension tools from her trained colleagues. She has even started to incorporate these tools in her activities, especially during field days.
The results of the assessment complement previous studies on e-readiness, which showed that implementing e-extension not only requires physical infrastructure and technical expertise but also psychological readiness. In other words, the public sector has to assess how people across the entire agricultural extension value chain perceive and respond to e-extension, and invest in creating the right mindset to welcome e-extension in their communities. ◀
Grace Agili (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of the Agricultural Information Resource Centre (AIRC) in Nairobi, Kenya.
Stephen Rono (email@example.com) works in information acquisition and processing at AIRC.