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Zambia Agriculture Minister Calls for Utilization of ICTs in Agriculture Sector

By Darlington Kahilu


Agriculture and Livestock Minister Emmanuel Chenda has called for increased utilization of Information Technology in enhancing agricultural development. Mr. Chenda says information technology should be used to ease communication between farmers and agricultural stakeholders. He said this in Lusaka when he launched the National Agricultural Information Services (NAIS) Short Messaging System (SMS) platform, which is supported by the International Institute for Communications Development (IICD).


Mr. Chenda added that 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 that 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 waiving the cost to enable farmers to have access to innovation. “The SMS cost of K900 is on the higher side and initiatives by the department have been made to request ZICTA to help waiver this rate by allocating NAIS with a short-code so as to enable more farmers to have easy and cheaper access to the platform”.         


Meanwhile, IICD Country Programme Manager for Zambia, Mrs Theresa Stanton, says that information and communication technology (ICT) contributes to many innovations, stating that “…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 the information needed to stabilize and enhance the livelihoods of rural communities”. She stressed that the combination of traditional and modern ICTs, specifically radio and SMS messaging, makes for a powerful use of both technologies and that 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.”


Mrs. 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.  


NAIS Deputy Director, Mr. Mutukewa Mukelabai, says that the SMS system will help to address 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 to 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 that as farmers they have been facing many problems in carrying out the farming activities.  “Among the problems we have been facing is a lack of timely information”. Mrs. Mulenga said it takes a long time for farmers to get feedback on the various questions they 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 to receive agricultural information in time. “Northern Province has poor radio reception. Even when there is a response on the 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 due to the fact that most agricultural camps in the country are not manned. Apart from English, farmers will be able to use the service in all the seven major local languages; namely Bemba, Kaonde, Lunda, Luvale, Lozi, Nyanja and Tonga.  Framers will be able to type NAIS, language code leave space, ask your question and send to 3009. The system is currently only available to Airtel subscribers; however, the system will be available to all networks in due course. The language codes are EN for English, BE for Bemba, KA for Kaonde, LU for Lunda, LV for Luvale, NY for Nyanja, LO for Lozi and TO for Tonga. Codes can be sent either in capital letters or small letters.

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