Universal access to information is a human right and “means that everyone has the right to seek, receive and impart information”. It is essential for democracy to function in societies and for the general well-being of the individual. It empowers the citizenry to participate in and exercise their political rights, promotes development and economic performance, and makes governments accountable to its citizenry.
Access to information is fundamental to achieving sustainable development. Although explicitly mentioned as a component of SDG 16 (promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels), it is a key component to achieving and monitoring progress towards all other SDGs. Achieving SDG 2 (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture) for instance, requires that smallholder farmers access information, and appropriately apply it to their farming practice. But not everybody or groups are able to freely exercise their right to information. One such group is smallholder farmers who require information to enhance their productivity.
Access to agricultural information is critical to improving farmers’ productivity both in terms of yield and the productivity of other factors of production such as farmland, labour, and capital. Smallholder farmers generally lack access to information about markets and improved farming methods to increase their production. The reasons for this are manifold and vary by location and can include remoteness of farmlands and limited number and knowledge of extension workers. Therefore, supporting smallholders to access and apply quality extension information is critical.
Extension is defined as systems that should facilitate the access of farmers, their organizations and other market actors to knowledge, information and technologies; facilitate their interaction with partners in research, education, agribusiness, and other relevant institutions; and assist them to develop their own technical, organizational and management skills and practices. – FAO
Sadly, in Nigeria, the ratio of extension worker to farmer stands at one extension worker to between 2,500 to 10,000 farmers whereas the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommends 1 extension worker to 800 farmers. Over the years, the Nigerian government has implemented various programmes to improve access to extension services.
In 2020, in the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic, Propcom Mai-karfi (PM) piloted an intervention to build the capacity of select radio stations to produce and market agricultural programmes that meet farmers’ information needs. PM also partnered with an Agrotech company, Farm Innovation Nigeria (FIN), to test viable models of digital agricultural extension services (DAES) targeted at smallholder farmers.
The results have been increased listenership for those radio stations reaching over 3 million farmers and sponsorships of agricultural programmes by agricultural companies. FIN has thus far registered over 62,000 farmers on the Farm Aid platform, and more than 70% of them received information on good agronomy practices from qualified agronomists via text messages and were linked to mechanisation services, among other benefits.
The International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) is celebrated every year on 28 September to create awareness of the right to seek and obtain information. This year’s theme, “Building Back better with Access to Information”, underscores the important role laws and their enforcement play in building strong institutions to promote access and strengthen people’s rights to information. By strengthening the production of quality agricultural programmes on radio and supporting FIN to expand the reach of its platform, Propcom is contributing to solving the extension access problem in the communities we work in and ensuring that farmers access quality information that they need.
Read more about IDUAI 2021