The initiative bringing together the Ministry of Agriculture, the Agriculture Non State Actors Forum (ANSAF) and mobile telephone service providers seeks to plug the shortage of extension officers, whose number stands at 12,210.
Speaking at a meeting with mobile phone stakeholders to discuss how to implement the project in Dar es Salaam yesterday, the Assistant Director, Extension Services and Research at the ministry, Dr Kisa Kajigili said currently, there were only 8,323 out of 20,533 extension officers required.
In her presentation on the role of ministry in the provision of extension services, she said that currently, Tanzania has 12,445 villages in 4,247 wards across the country, to show the breadth of need for extension services to optimize production.
The use of information technology system by mobile phones services was likely to bridge the gap in facilitating effective and efficient delivery of quality extension services, she said.
The director said that since information about agriculture can reach farmers everywhere it is appropriate to use the device to offset the gap of extension officers.
“Promoting the use of innovative ways (ICT mobile phones) to disseminate information to the farmers is crucial to increase productivity,” she said.
“Apart from that, there is need to put in place an agriculture extension policy that stands alone instead of a small portion merged in agriculture policy as a whole,” she pointed out.
Most countries in Africa do not have agriculture extension policy that stands, she said, insisting that Tanzanian farmers need to change and think of enhancing productivity.
The director hinted that the government was also planning to establish an information centre or desk that plays the role of sending necessary information to farmers.
Dr Kajigila affirmed that Tanzania was leading in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) for established farmers’ field schools (FFS) reaching 16,786 in total.
Since FSS were established, it has enhanced d productivity from 2.5 tonnes to 6.5 to seven tonnes of paddy per acre while maize yield increased from 1.8 tonnes to four or five tonnes.
On his part, ANSAF Secretary General Audax Rukonge said the objective of the workshop was to enhance stakeholders’ relationships and understanding of current mobile phone –based solutions for agriculture extension services.
The workshop focused on finding ways to lower costs, improve efficiency and effectiveness of mobile phone based agriculture extension services in order to improve the viability of creating sustainable business models.
Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) Naliendele researcher Happy Daudi said that at this juncture, there is no escape from deploying ICT to disseminate relevant information to farmers as it has been showed to be successful.
Citing the pilot project implemented in some districts in Mtwara region, she said the use of ICT had enabled farmers in the southern region to get relevant information about markets and proper seeds.
Mobile phone information had enabled farmers them to timely access agricultural experts about animal crop growing or animal keeping.
Patrick Klao, managing director for Esoko Network Tanzania Ltd expressed similar sentiments, saying that lack of access to quality information for farmers is a big challenge. “We need to strengthen ways of disseminating information to the farmers to offset the gap and increase productivity,” he emphasized.