Farmers all over the world make significant contributions to the growth of many economies, keeping the agriculture industry alive. Ironically, most live from hand to mouth seeking to achieve the farm-to-fork agenda. The achievement of their contribution is usually characterized by challenges. Some setbacks farmers grapple with include on-farm management indecisions due to lack of access to information that can help them plan and prepare. Continually, they are swamped with questions such as “when will the rains set in, which crops will be good for the season, how much should the farm produce be priced, who will buy our products, how to efficiently apply fertilizer?” and a host of others. According to a 2017 status report by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) on “The Business of Smallholder Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa”, the global spread of 500 million smallholder farms serve as a source of livelihood for over 2 billion people and produce about 80% of the food in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The report also reveals smallholder farmers in Africa constitute about 70% of the continent’s population. Meanwhile, the sector lacks adequate agricultural advisory services for farmers. In Ghana, a research conducted by the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG) in partnership with Social Enterprise Development Foundation (SEND-Ghana) reveals that the national farmer-extension ratio stands at 1 Agriculture Extension Agent to 1, 500 farmers. The report also indicates that some Extension Agents in parts of the country lack requisite resources to effectively discharge their duties.
Esoko Farmer Helpline
Fortunately, the unveiling of a sophisticated farmer helpline in 2014 by Esoko, gave farmers a glimmer of hope to cope. The facility which at the time of launch was the first of its kind in West Africa has been bracing farmers against poor harvest, drought, climate shocks, lethal pests, and weed infestations. The one-stop-shop farmer helpline serves as a quick point of reference and services such as weather updates, agronomic tips, extension services, market prices, market access, and nutritional advice. Farmers periodically receive this information via SMS. The operations of the Center form part of the Company’s mission to drive economic empowerment of Africa’s rural folks through technology and innovations. Due to a high rate of illiteracy, farmers are served in over 12 local dialects by agric experts manning the Center. As a result, farmers who previously could not access advisory services from Extension Officers presently call the Center to interact with agents directly from their farms for expert solutions and advice. Figures available at the Center show that the most sought-after service is weather update since Ghana is a rainfed country. Owing to poor irrigation systems, farmers depend heavily on the rains. On commodities, information is most required on maize, groundnut, rice, cassava, pepper, tomato, okro, and garden egg. The statistics also indicate that for the past 3 years, an average of 40,667 unique farmers accessed the Center annually. Of these farmers, 81% were male while 19 % were female. This representation exposes the gender disparity in the ownership and access to mobile phones between men and women in rural areas. A report conducted in South Asia on the mobile phone gender gap also shows that the phenomenon “can exacerbate other important forms of inequality – in earnings, networking opportunities, and access to information”.
Below is a graphic illustration of regional spread of farmer access, commodities and services from 2016 – 2018: