Ease access to information for farmers


RE: “Lawmakers to summon trade, agric ministers” (The New Times, February 7).

I have got to say with much admiration that I believe this parliament has been the most responsive to citizen issues so far. Issues arise and they are dealt with in a balanced, mature amongst deep and honest debates. I hope in this particular discussion with the ministry of agriculture and education, concerned stakeholders like farmers associations and parents/teachers associations will be involved and participate fully.

I would wish to point out the issue of the need to strengthen and scale up use of Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (Minagri) agriculture information system.

Farmers need timely, cheap access to information. As an example, given the outbreak of the army worm invasion, the frequent foot and mouth diseases in the Eastern Province and others, how easy is a farmer able to access critical government information concerning spraying efforts, etc?

The information varies widely from crops, livestock inputs etc. The agriculture information system consists of (in Rwanda case) the ministry and Rwanda Agricultural Board and National Export Agricultural Agency NAEB. These institutions rely on information flow between them and districts through 'agronomes' district agricultural officers, and extension officers and the various agricultural research stations.

In this age of advanced technology, this information would ideally be set up and managed in a database and an information system would assist the decision makers to make timely decisions. For instance, an increase of foot and mouth disease would trigger an appropriate response or decision. This is within the government agencies/institutions.

On the other hand farmers too need other critical information including price of produce in the markets, price of agricultural inputs like fertilizers etc. This can be done by the SMS-based eSoko system that has been implemented by Minagri. One of the greatest benefits of an eSoko (market price information system) is the cutting out of the middlemen and ensuring the farmer gets better prices as a result.

The recent price tussles over potatoes was a case in point as middlemen moved in to protect their turf but at the end its the farmer who remains at the mercy of the middlemen due to lack of market prices.

If Minagri focuses on getting its information system network (both within the government and to the farmers) to work more efficiently (and something which admittedly is not easy given other important issues it deals with) with the help of ICTs, it would make their job much easier.