By Alex Osei-Boateng
Ghana is about to launch an electronic agriculture extension project in 50 out of its 178 district assemblies using six of its local dialects by the end of the year.
Emmanuel Odame, a director with the Department of Agriculture Extension Services of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, told Xinhua here Tuesday.
The e-extension system, he said, would offer key extension officers the opportunity to use the internet and mobile phones to give quality advisory service to farmers in every part of the country to improve agriculture productivity
Ghana ranks among leading countries in Sub-Sahara Africa in the use of computers and internet services, with more than six percent of the population having access to the internet.
To take advantage of these information and communication technologies (ICTs), Odame said the department was setting up e-extension services within the ministry to enhance qualitative extension service delivery to farmers and other stakeholders.
"We as a department of the ministry of food and agriculture are positioning ourselves to incorporate ICT into the traditional extension methods we are currently practicing," he said.
"The technology we are adopting in Ghana is not too complicated to follow, or too risky to try within limited resources of farmers and other stakeholders since most of them already have access to mobile phones and internet services," he said.
Ghana has some 2,600 agricultural extension staff working with the country's over four million farmers. This translates to a ratio of one extension agent to 1,700 farmers, which falls short of the Food and Agricultural Organization standard of 1:1,000.
Under the pilot e-extension project, which is being funded by the World Bank through the West Africa Agriculture Productivity Program, over 200 Agricultural Extension Agents or field officers will be trained on how to use the new technology
to disseminate information to farmers in the first phase of the project.
The project has a long-term plan to train and build the capacity of farmer-based organizations, NGOs working in farming communities, as well as farmers on innovations to enable them to access information via the web and also assist in updating information.
The electronic service will slot in e-conferencing facility which will have the advantage of travel time reduction and thereby enable farmers to talk to field officers on regular basis, everywhere and anytime across the country.
Innovative ICT-based approaches that utilize internet connection have the advantage of providing advice to farmers on-line while mobile phones help farmers to access information instantly via SMS, according to agriculture experts.
Agriculture plays an important role in economic growth, food security, poverty reduction, livelihoods, rural development and environment in Ghana, where some 60 percent of the population lives in rural areas and depends either directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihood
The agricultural sector in Ghana is made up mainly of smallholder farmers who are disadvantaged in accessing inputs, credit, extension services and markets for their produce. They therefore rely on extension service officers to provide them with vital information to increase their yields.
Agricultural extension service in Ghana, which dated back to the 19th century, is defined as the entire set of organizations that support and facilitate people engaged in agriculture to solve problems and obtain information, skills, and technologies to improve productivity, their livelihoods and well-being.
The program is being undertaken by governments across the world to employ science-based approaches, and local indigenous knowledge, while undertaking research and development to improve plant variety, livestock and soil fertility.
Although ICTs are used in extension in countries such as China, India, and Chile, Africa has lagged behind in harnessing this potential to improve productivity, with the exception of countries like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, where mobile phone services are used to provide inexpensive text messages about crop price information and "market spy" farmers visit local markets and remain in contact with villages through mobile phones.