A young cattle herder in Lesotho. New research says that information from Lesotho's Agriculutral Information Service (AIS) is not being used by many of Lesotho's famers / Giacomo Pirozzi - Panos pictures
According to researchers an agricultural information service in Lesotho is failing to reach the majority of farmers in the country. The study, from the university of Botswana, says that many poorly educated farmers do not see information as relevant to them.
Despite the fact that more than 95 per cent of farmers in Lesotho say they know about the government-run Agricultural Information Service (AIS), 84 per cent said they do not visit the AIS’s centres because they think the information there is not relevant to them.
While evaluating the take-up and impact of the service, researchers from the University of Botswana also found that farmers’ education levels affected how they use the information provided. Farmers with no formal education said they had never received quality information from AIS. On the other hand, farmers with higher education levels indicated that they got quality information all the time.
“[The] individual’s level of attainment can affect accessibility, comprehension and adoption of modern agricultural practice”, the study found. In addition, the researchers found that farmers with lower levels of education said they did not visit AIS information centres as much as those with a higher education levels. The study, which was published in this month’s International Journal on Information Management, is based on interviews with 209 farmers in the region and six staff from the AIS.
Falling crop levels spark investment
There has been a substantial decline in agricultural production in Lesotho and its share in the country’s GDP, emphasising the importance of providing information to farmers. According to a 2007 World Food Programme (WFP), cereal production fell 47 per cent, maize fell 51 per cent and sorghum fell 42 per cent over the past five years. Yet agriculture is crucial to the population’s survival as the majority of people in Lesotho live in rural areas where 85 per cent work as subsistence farmers.
Recognising the importance of the agricultural sector, the government has more than doubled spending on agriculture in recent years. The budget allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture jumped from US$9.8 million in 2006/2007 to US$19.2 million in 2008, of which US$4.6 million was earmarked for agricultural development.
The Agricultural Information Service was established in Lesotho in 1960 to disseminate information to support agricultural development. Farmers can visit AIS information centres to find out about agricultural developments. The information is also distributed through radio broadcasts and newspaper articles as well as booklets, newsletters, posters, magazines, video lessons and field campaigns.
Improve outreach, researchers urge
The researchers argue that more needs to be done by the AIS to engage farmers.
“In order for agriculture to improve, there is a need to strengthen the existing information system so as to provide information that is timely, relevant, accurate, and reliable and in an appropriate language and format,” writes one of the authors, Trywell Kalusopa, a researcher at the University of Botswana.
Almost half the farmers surveyed agreed that radio broadcasts were their preferred method of receiving information. However, many said that the radio programmes were broadcast at the wrong time or that they did not have radio reception, a problem which particularly affected farmers living in remote areas.
As the AIS is a government-run initiative, it only broadcasts on the government-owned Radio Lesotho. This effectively excludes farmers that prefer other radio stations, the study found. The researchers recommend that the AIS should have its own frequency as well as using other radio stations to reach more farmers.
The study recommends that the AIS uses advertising campaigns to encourages farmers to use the information centres as well as providing training for farmers who do not know how to use the centres. The research found that only 3.5 per cent of the farmers had been trained in how to use the service.
The study also recommended using new technologies, such as mobile phones, to improve access and knowledge of Lesotho’s AIS services. Despite the fact that mobile phone coverage is limited, the researchers said mobiles could be a valuable tool in the future as they can be used to help farmers market their products and access information on crop and seed prices.
Title: Evaluation of the Agricultural Information Service (AIS) in Lesotho
Authors: William Mokotjo and Trywell Kalusopa
Link to journal: http://bit.ly/bhUF78