In June, the RFS Nigeria project held training on new RiceAdvice and WeedManager apps, both developed by the Africa Rice Centre to help farmers access support for rice management practices that will increase yields – and improve food security.
Rice farmers in Nigeria are beset with challenges: poor quality soil because of past unsustainable agricultural practices, lack of access to critical inputs that improve crop yields, and a disconnect between agricultural research and knowledge dissemination to farmers. Another problem is insufficient access to extension workers – the people who can help farmers improve productivity and better manage natural resources such as soil and water.
Enter Covid-19. With lockdown regulations and requirements for social distancing, farmers were even more at risk of isolation from advice, skills training, and general communication about market access and crop yields.
But necessity is the mother of invention: the RFS project in Nigeria, led by UNDP, looked for novel ways to bridge communication gaps during times of travel restrictions and lack of in-person support in the countries in which they operate.
Due to high mobile penetration rates in many African countries, messaging platforms have become an innovative way to help deliver essential information when lockdown restrictions prevented extension workers from travelling. This has worked particularly well in Kenya and Eswatini, which have some of the highest rates of mobile phone use in sub-Saharan Africa.
The messaging platforms were also eagerly embraced by farmers, hungry for communication.
The RiceAdvice app for Nigerian rice farmers is another technology solution to help extension workers reach farmers in remote places, especially during Covid-19 movement restrictions. The app was developed by Africa Rice, a CGIAR Center which conducts global research to improve food security. It advises ricegrowers on a variety of rice management practices, such as the best choice of fertilisers, the amounts required, and when fertiliser needs to be applied. Farmers in turn get swift responses from extension agents on questions about yield estimates, conditions for planting, and fertilizer use. RiceAdvice’s sister app, Weed Manager, provides advice on weed management specific to rice farmers for all stages surrounding rice cropping rotations and is a helpful complement to the sage advice provided by the main RiceAdvice interface. An added bonus is that both apps are freely available on Android phones and tablets.
At the end of June this year, 80 Nigerian rice farmers from seven states attended a two-day workshop in Abuja on the ins and outs of the RiceAdvice and Weed Manager apps. The training was facilitated by the RFS Nigeria project team in partnership with Sovisage Nigeria Ltd.
The training panned out well: participants all
received android phones on which the apps were already installed. They were thrilled
about the new opportunities the apps would help realise; better farming
practices, higher crop yields and a better way of managing pests, diseases and
weeds. They were also optimistic that the training would in the long run
improve food security in Nigeria at much lower cost.
The workshop attendants will now transfer their
newfound knowledge of the apps’ various functions to other rice producers in
their respective states.
“The first thing we’ll do when we get back is organise in-house training for other farmers to help them to also improve their yields,” said Sanusi Dankawu, a training participant. Sanusi is a monitoring and evaluation officer at Kano State Agricultural Development Programme. He believes that the training was done at an opportune time, at the beginning of the planting season.
Veronica Igbara, an extension worker from Benue, one of the beneficiary states, said the app will no doubt improve the quality and quantity of rice farmers’ crop output. “This type of training makes agriculture easier. Farmers will be happy to farm during this current wet season,” she said.
In the RiceAdvice app, we see how modern technology aids traditional farming in accessible ways, allowing rural and smallholder farmers easy access to expertise.
"Oh! UNDP-GEF, all this while you had such an amazing profitable farming-without-stress assistant without us knowing? This should have been introduced earlier than now; in any case, it is welcomed." - Charity Jonah, Farmer, Fufore Community, Fufore LGA, Adamawa State.
"A simple application for a profitable farming business; its use saves time, energy and resources. I enjoy working with it" - Alice Doke, EA, Njoboliyo Community, Yola South LGA, Adamawa State
"Its use is so appt and appropriate for CSA; it should be a must for all farmers to use" - Rebecca Clement, EA, Dason Bwatiye Community, Fufore LGA, Adamawa State.
"As an extension staff, the app has improved the speed, accuracy and authenticity of my fieldwork thereby earning me the confidence and trust of farmers. I love and enjoy working with it" - Hajara Adamu, EA, Njoboli Community, Fufore LGA, Adamawa State
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