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Mobile Learning Solution Opens Training to More Small Farmers

Posted On: November 13, 2020

Project in Nigeria helps farmers learn via both smartphones and non-smartphones

Digital innovations are a hot topic in agricultural development. But how can organizations develop a solution that reaches farmers in a rural area that have low access to smartphones and the internet?

East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation (EWS-KT) has been using both direct and indirect outreach methods to deliver high-quality training to farmers for years. Direct refers to face-to-face outreach, including use of Technical field officers, while indirect outreach is achieved through radio, print and digital media.

Lightweight Mobile Learning for Farmers

At EWS-KT, we have developed a lightweight mobile learning solution that is optimized for accessibility on feature phones that also results in minimal data charges (with some operators this is free) in partnership with Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and Funzi. WUR is a leading agricultural academic institution and Funzi is a global mobile learning service.

With a course that works on their phone and without having to worry about the data cost, farmers can enjoy a learning experience that is fun, in their own language and at their own pace. They also receive a certificate once they have completed all the modules and passed the mandatory knowledge quizzes. 

Access to Knowledge During Difficult Times

This new approach to learning was launched in Nigeria in early May 2020—just in time for the lockdowns due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, where movement and field activities were restricted. The aim of the course is to introduce the basics of vegetable production to farmers who had no access to our field activities and other extension services. The first module covered improved seedling production (from open field to modular).

Through promoting on social media and direct invitations to participate, 4,674 farmers signed up for this service. 89% of them were able to complete the course and earn a certificate.

Not only has this helped widen our net of outreach in difficult times, it has also been a valuable learning experience for our project. High completion rates and high scores (88% of farmers achieved the highest rating) indicates that this fun approach to learning is very suitable for farmers in Hausa-speaking northern Nigeria.

A research study is underway to fully evaluate the impact of this project based on the farmer’s behavioral change, adoption rate, improved skills, and productivity.

“It has been a positive life-changing experience for me. Each topic is ladened with practical solutions and great content to make the learner a star,” said William Edube, who joined this learning program from our online farmer’s community.

“The program is a must for every vegetable grower so we can stop wasting resources and maximize profit,” said Adeboye Olakan Phillip, who started his learning journey from an invitation of our staff. 

Next Steps

Experience so far indicates a high level of interest in the farming community. Over the coming months, in cooperation with WUR, EWS-KT will be evaluating the results of this pilot project to better understand its true potential. The aim of this study will be to see if the mobile learning service was an effective way to reach farmers through their own phones in a fun and user-friendly way. 

If this proves successful, we will be looking for ways to scale this approach. As a pilot, the costs were relatively high—US$6 per farmer, covering 3 modules (or one course). However, with scale (targeting at least 200,000 farmers) it will be possible to reduce this cost to between US$1-$2 per person (which would then cover all 37 training modules—or 9 courses). This could be a very cost-effective way to get basic knowledge to farmers, especially in areas where we are unable to reach through our regular field-based activities. 

Although early days, it is exciting to think that as well as scaling in Nigeria this could also be translated into different languages to benefit farmers in many other countries. In the long term, we are interested to look for ways of developing this approach into a sustainable business model. Together with Wageningen Plant Research, we hope to continue providing the technical contents for these courses (free of charge). To cover all or part of the costs of Funzi’s services we will be assessing different models, including farmers potential willingness to pay a small registration fee for farmers to use this service.

Transforming Nigeria’s Vegetable Markets

This mobile learning initiative is part of EWS’s work in Nigeria where together with our partners and with the support of the SDGP facility, we seek to transform the vegetable markets of the country. The partners are Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry Kaduna, Ahmadu Bello University, Wageningen University and Research (Netherlands), and Solidaridad. 

The vegetable sector in Nigeria has huge potential. This can bring significant opportunities in terms of rural economic development. However, until recently, smallholder farmers in Kaduna and Kano were unable to effectively harness this opportunity due to poor integration into vegetable marketing.

With lack of access to production knowledge and quality farm inputs, yields (and profit) in this area are some of the lowest in the country. Brokers, commission agents, and other intermediaries dominate vegetable market chains and offer low prices for produce, while limiting marketing opportunities and access to market information for farmers.

Vegetable cultivation provides the highest employment and income per hectare of all crops. As well as providing a decent income, positioning vegetables as a business opportunity for smallholder farmers has a profound effect on nutrition. The increased availability of safe to eat and affordable vegetables provides a viable source of micronutrients essential for healthy living—especially for young children and pregnant women.

The 5-year program aims to train 136,000 smallholder farmers in sustainable and profitable vegetable production practices. Digital technology such as the mobile learning approach will be at the forefront of this “Green Revolution.”