Written by Mamusha Lemma and Beamlak Tesfaye
New policies, actors and relationships are increasingly influencing the ways in which information and knowledge is accessed and used in Ethiopia’s agricultural sector. Agricultural experts and development agents are key front line sources of information and knowledge for smallholder farmers.
But access to up-to-date and relevant information remains a key challenge in serving farmers and other users of agricultural extension services.
Information and communication technology (ICT) can, however, facilitate rapid, efficient and cost effective access to agricultural information and knowledge among agricultural experts, development agents and producers.
This post tells the story of a champion agricultural expert who is using the facilities of an agricultural knowledge centre (AKC) in West Shoa zone to promote a learning and sharing culture in the zone’s agricultural development office.
Sarbessa Urgessa leads one of the most active AKCs established under the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project. The West Shoa AKC is located at the zone’s agricultural development office. Sarbessa uses his ICT and interpersonal communication skills to assist the knowledge centre’s users in setting up email accounts, searching for online resources and creating online information folders for basic information management. He also offers advice on basic computer troubleshooting techniques and creates awareness about the purpose and services of the AKC.
The zone’s agricultural development office supports him by informing users about the AKC and encouraging experts to properly utilize the facilities and services. As a result of these efforts, more agricultural experts and other users in West Shoa are now aware of the presence of the AKC and are using the ICT services it provides to expand their knowledge and keep up-to-date with new information on farming practices. ‘We have moved beyond using the social media sites in these centres,’ says Sarbessa.
The West Shoa AKC is now a key service of the zonal agricultural development office, which buys stationery and printing and cleaning materials to ensure smooth running of the centre. Sarbessa has collected more than 40 books to enrich the library services at the AKC, in addition to developing a user friendly data gathering, analysis and reporting system to document and share reports on the use of the AKC services and facilities.
The West Shoa AKC is an example of how ICT facilities can be used to develop experts’ knowledge and skills on agricultural innovations and improve effectiveness of extension services..
Using the knowledge acquired through the knowledge centre, Sarbessa wrote a proposal for the introduction, in West Shoa, of ‘Anchote’ (Coccinia abyssinica) a root crop that is grown in the south and western parts of Ethiopia. The proposal received support from a non-governmental organization, enabling the introduction of Anchote to women farmers in the zone. This initiative is now supported by West Shoa agricultural development office.
His example has inspired colleagues to develop proposals that have led to the introduction of biogas and vermicomposting in the zone. At a recent focus group discussion with AKC users, a female expert said, ‘the AKC has brought access to new knowledge and information which is helping them to deliver on new assignments.’
Due to his exemplary actions, Sarbessa has been invited by the LIVES to train others on best practices in knowledge capturing, processing and sharing. He is also organizing awareness raising session on how the AKC services can be used by other sectors of government in the zone.
The West Shoa zone AKC experience shows the important role champions play in promoting effective and sustainable use of ICT services. The LIVES project will continue developing the skills of AKC managers and monitoring how these facilities are used across the country.