By Mamusha Lemma and Beamlak Tesfaye
In Ethiopia, agricultural experts and development agents have limited access to up-to-date information and knowledge on agriculture. They also have limited skills to use information and communications technology (ICT) tools to access information and knowledge. Tigist Gebrekidan has been working as a secretary in Bahir Dar Zuria District in West Gojjam Zone of Amhara region in Ethiopia. After the establishment of an agricultural knowledge centre in the district by the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project, Tigist was appointed as an ICT expert of Bahir Dar Zuria district Office of Agriculture.
Initially there was low demand for the knowledge centre services in the district. But Tigist came up with innovative ways to create demand and attract people to use the centre. Most were informal approaches including inviting some of her close colleagues to visit the centre. She supported them to create email and Facebook accounts. ‘Many were surprised to see photos of former acquaintances, said Tigist. This raised their interest to know more about using the internet and IT-based services. She continued to interact with them and help them explore the information they were interested in. Gradually, they became comfortable in using the internet, and developed computer skills.
Tigist also uses the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony to promote the knowledge centre and attract users. She sets up a sendel to burn fragrant aroma and offers free coffee to users in the knowledge centre. The coffee ceremony creates the opportunity for interaction during which she shares important messages about the use of the knowledge centre.
She also shares information on current issues and social affairs to create curiosity among staff as a way of encouraging them to find out more by using the resources in the centre. As a result of her efforts, more experts now come to the knowledge centre to use the internet, or read materials and do their work.
‘I feel good when users get useful information and develop skills and confidence to use computers and the internet’, says Tigist. She has also made contacts with development experts working in projects in the region who use the knowledge centre to access training and information materials.
The Bahir Dar zuria district knowledge centre is located in what was once a store, with inadequate light. She improved the room by fixing the lighting system.
The knowledge centre is now used by people from different sector offices of the district, and it is mentioned as a good example of a knowledge service in the district. Other government departments such as the health office are now proposing to establish other knowledge centres.
Tigist is a social linker with incredible interpersonal skills. She received appreciation and compliments from knowledge center users. They even encourage her to open her own internet café in town. She is also an active learner. She said that knowledge center users share with her relevant information and skills in ICT tools.
Tigist’s experience shows that though they may take time to catch on among users, knowledge centres can provide services that transcend personal development to include providing extension services. The use of social media in these centres can be an entry point that enables extension staff to become familiar with the use of computers and the internet and gradually use knowledge centre services for personal and community development.