Low farmer-to-agricultural-extension-agent ratio, inadequate flow of information, weak linkages among value chain actors and other challenges have contributed to low productivity in the agricultural sector. The pineapple value chain like other commodity value chains in Ghana is faced with challenges, with smallholders being the most vulnerable.  

Zikiru Shaibu is using modern technology to develop a farmer information system for smallholder farmers.  He is a PhD student working with the Mastercard Foundation supported RUFORUM-CARP+ developing a sustainable and commercial pineapple value chain system to increase yields and livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the Central Region of Ghana and he is supervised by Prof. Festus Annor-Frempong and Prof. Joseph A. Kwarteng at the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

Instead of relying on extension officer visits and low returns from informal pineapple traders, an information system has been established to link farmers to production and market information – and to each other.  The system uses drones (small, unmanned aircraft) that provide feedback information on crop health, performance and yield estimates and then relays this through a mobile phone platform linking farmers to extension agents, markets and the university.  Two groups of farmers worked closely with the CARP+ team and forty farmers have been actively engaged in the research. To overcome issues with typing, the farmers were trained on voice note recordings, picture taking and video recording on the mobile phones.  The aerial views from the drones resulted in advice based on index maps also generated using the drone technology.  The feedback has enabled the farmers to be more effective and efficient in managing their crops and ensured improved plant growth and higher yields. The mobile phone platform links them to the appropriate advice.  Furthermore this platform is useful to allow the farmers to arrange to aggregate their produce and co-ordinate their transport.  In the future this information system is expected to assist them to negotiate better prices and link them to cheaper input sources and more lucrative sales opportunities. The mobile platform experimented with a range of software applications to optimize the information generated and shared, and for ease of use.

Moreover, amidst the success of the research, COVID-19 had a role to play during the implementation process. Just as the research team began reaching out to smallholder pineapple farmers to determine their perceptions on what best about the information system, data collection on information needs assessment was brought to a hold. It further delayed the deployment of the information system. With Government’s ease of restrictions and reduction of COVID-19 cases, the research bounce back to life and is in the process of completing its set objectives.

The initiative of developing the information system (mobile phone and drone) caught the attention and interest of the university and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Both agreed that this is a very useful technology to bridge the information gap as well enhance agricultural extension delivery. This is the first of its kind in Ghana to bring value chain actors on a single platform.

This research has already created excitement and positive feedback

“Thank you for the opportunity given to KEEA farmers to explore as far as modernising agriculture is concerned. Times and trends are changing and the earlier you adapt to the change, the better for your development. Today, there are lots of modern techniques ….You require up-to-date information….. I wouldn’t need to pick a vehicle to deliver information to you, today, mobile phones have come save this great deal. We can now exchange information with ease.” The MoFA director for KEEA, Mrs Victoria Dansoa Abankwa

The Drone (Unmanned Aerial) System has been tested and proved a good tool to provide precision farming information on land size, health status of crops, water stress, disease and pest severity and mapping of farm lands.  This is useful not only to the farmers but also to government planning agencies, extension agencies and researchers as well as to processors, distributors and export agencies.  The link from the drone information onto the mobile platforms has allowed real-time feedback to farmers significantly improving their ability to grow unfamiliar varieties that are in higher demand by processors. For an overview of the Information System to see how it is including the youth and farmers go to the video.

For scaling out there will need to be investment by government or farmers associations to acquire drones and train operators and develop the appropriate software for the different crops.  Many farmers have mobile phone and it is simple for farmers to enrol on the platform.  The main challenge going forward and rolling it out across Ghana, and to other commodities is to produce suitable training content.  This may be an opportunity for many new graduates to assist in “translating” existing extension information and new research information into training systems suitable to digital sharing on mobile phones.

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