Scaling Agricultural Extension Through Digital Innovation
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) – telephones, computers, television, radio, and others – are garnering increased attention for their potential to help scale agricultural extension and training. ICTs offer an impressive capability to share knowledge, connect people across distances, and mobilize resources in ways unimaginable even 10 years ago. However, many ICT for agriculture initiatives (including for agricultural extension) have remained in the realm of successful pilots and compelling case studies, but have not yet achieved widespread impact at the scale envisioned by so many in this field. Bridging the gap between the unparalleled possibilities offered by ICTs and the debatable track record of leveraging them for agriculture (including agricultural extension) offers a compelling space in which AGRA and other agricultural development proponents are poised to inject innovation and creativity.
The following report presents Innovation Scan findings on the innovation request presented by AGRA: How might we leverage information and communication technologies (ICTs) to scale extension and training solutions that support behavior change among smallholder farmers? In Phase I of this scan, the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) investigated possible innovation options and key decision-making considerations. In Phase II, GKI used feedback from the Implementing Partners to delve more deeply into specific innovation opportunities poised to positively impact their ongoing YieldWise efforts.
Jones, Govereh, Tanzania Team Leader at AGRA, emphasizes three critical points that stood out from the Scan Report:
There is no one size fits all solution. To decrease post-harvest loss and efficiently utilize digital technology, a menu of content delivery methods must be considered, taking into account different audiences. AGRA is faced with the key challenge of identifying which technologies are best suited in different contexts in the maize value chain.
Delivering a message to its intended recipients is only half the story. Behavioral change is a totally different ball game. Knowledge around post-harvest technology requires an understanding of maintaining active product delivery systems, keeping prices affordable, and ensuring that delivery is made when the audience has the best ability to acquire the technology.
Gender considerations are key. AGRA is learning which unserved groups will benefit most from digital extension services. Their current challenge is how to reach out to women farmers, as the traditional extension approach does not seem to be women-friendly.
Since the conclusion of the Innovation Scan in December 2016, AGRA continues to prioritize the challenge of digital innovation for extension (DIET). They have a bold vision for training over 100,000 small-holder farmers in Tanzania in 2017, which will only be possible with the aid of digital innovation. The key question that our report surfaced for AGRA is: which package of solutions – radio, television, telephone, and computers – will best complement and reinforce their existing efforts with extension agents? AGRA is currently working with key Tanzanian partners to determine the optimal model for scale, informed by our Innovation Scan report.
In its role as the YieldWise Innovation Partner, GKI helps Implementing Partners improve their effectiveness and impact through innovation. In addition to scanning for innovations with potential to reduce food loss, GKI works with Implementing Partners to address their innovation capacity building goals. This effort builds upon a legacy of work with The Rockefeller Foundation on the post-harvest food loss challenge: GKI served as the Social Innovation Lab for the Foundation’s Food Waste and Spoilage Initiative in 2013-15.