Building the capacity of agricultural facilitators and farmers in Ghana: Providing complementary training with Open Distance Learning and Information and Communications Technology
Collins Kwabena Osei, CSIR-Crops Research Institute, Ghana
Agriculture is the mainstay of the Ghanaian economy and provides for the livelihood of 70% of the population. However yields have remained low and thus adversely limiting their potential income and affecting the nutritional status of the poor. Traditional agronomic practises, disease and pest and inadequate extension advice, among others play a major role in reduced agricultural yields. Agricultural extension programmes provide the much-need help to farmers in the form of practical field advice and improved the technologies from Research Institutions and the Universities. Yet the enormous demand for agricultural facilitator and small farmer-group training has never been met through convectional extension methods. As the gap between production deficit and the demand for food and export crops widens the need to enlarge the information space represents a major challenge for the agricultural facilitator and small farmer-groups in Ghana.
Open Distance Learning (ODL) activities have been part of the education scene for a long time and is currently receiving a boast by the Ghana Government in the effort to increase access to all forms of education and at all levels (Aggor et al 2002). However, its use for continuous agriculture education is a new phenomenal. Emerging Information and Communication Technology Mediated Open Distance Education (Tech - MODE) holds promise to provide new learning opportunities which will enlarge the information space and facilitate regular learning of improved technologies and increase access to knowledge and skills that will contribute to agricultural and rural development. Opportunities provided by Tech - MODE was therefore exploited to continually update the knowledge and skills of facilitators and farmers groups. In this paper we present experiences and lessons learned in the use of multi media such as print, radio, audio cassette recorders to enhance the transfer of new technologies for improved livelihood of small farmers.
The setting: The Techiman Metropolis of Ghana is a major food and vegetable producing area. The farmers especially women farmers produce vegetable crops such as tomato, pepper and garden egg (Osei et al 2003). However, low level of extension education on food and vegetable crops, poor agronomic practises, misuse of pesticides and large post harvest losses result in low productivity (MoFA 2001). The project was carried out in 3 communities (Asueyi, Tanoso and Tanobuasi) in the Techiman Metropolis. The communities were chosen because they represent typical vegetable growing areas in the metropolis and receive information support from Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) and Women in Agricultural Development (WIAD). They also receive radio signals from 3 FM stations in the Metropolis.
METHODOLOGY / APPROACH
The project worked with researchers, extension agents' small vegetable farmers and radio producers to implement the project. The general objective of the project was to enhance the professional capacity of agricultural facilitators to assist small farmers to produce more and healthier vegetables that contribute to livelihoods and food security in the area. It was also to provide continuous learning opportunities that addressed the agricultural information needs of the selected communities. Agricultural Extension Agents and small-scale vegetable farmers were the target of the project.
The process involved
PILOTING RELEVANT TECH-MODE TO PROMOTE HEALTHY VEGETABLE PRODUCTION: A PILOT STUDY
The Continuing Agricultural Education Project (CAEP), Ghana, is a Pilot Project by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and executed by the Institute of Adult Education, University of Ghana-Legon, the Crops Research institute (CRI), Kumasi, and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), Techiman. The pilot adopted Open Distance Learning methods, multi-media and materials as generic methodology to provide continuous agricultural education for agricultural extension agents and farmers.
The following section discusses experiences of the project in using open distance and technology mediated-learning (Tech-MODE) to promote distance learning in healthy vegetable production.
Understanding user needs
Understanding farmers knowledge, available local content, language, access to available media are all factors that informed on the use of Tech-MODE in promoting healthy vegetable production. A participatory needs assessment survey was therefore conducted to understand user information needs and use of relevant media among others. Survey results showed that farm information sources were limited to traditional channels such as farm field days and demonstrations, colleague farmers, and agricultural inputs sellers. Farmers had a good knowledge of some multi-media of which radio, radio cassette recorders, the agricultural information centre, telephone and video were listed in order of importance
Selection of appropriate information media for delivery the programme
Based on the results of the needs assessment survey, examination of relevant literature and peculiar context of the study communities, the project used print, radio, radio broadcast and audio cassettes as the media to deliver the programme.
The print medium was used to target extension agents. It was selected because it is; familiar to extension agents, relatively inexpensive and portable. Print can also be used without additional equipment anytime, anywhere when light is available (Verduin and Clark, 1991)
Radio was used to target the vegetable farmers. Collaboration between extension and Radio FM stations resulted in targeting specific topic areas that met the learning needs of the farmers. Radio was crucial in overcoming the literacy barrier that went with the print medium. This is important in a country where 50% of the adult population is illiterate (Ghana Statistical Service 2000).
Audiocassette was used to target farmers. Since farmers are not always able to listen to life radio broadcast of agricultural programs due to factors beyond their control, the use of audio cassettes was considered appropriate. The survey results indicated that majority of the farmers had access to radio cassette players and were familiar with audiocassette. Recordings of radio broadcast were dubbed on audiocassettes for farmers to listen to in their groups. The production cost of audiocassette is relevantly cheap. Audio cassettes make it possible for farmers to control time and pace at which they learn. They are able to manipulate the cassettes and listen to relevant portions of the recorded programme.
The use of the multimedia approach enabled facilitators and farmers learn from more than one medium providing the learner with opportunities to enlarge their sources for agricultural information.
Developing and packaging appropriate content for delivery to target groups
Lack of relevant information on issues raised in the needs assessment survey was one of the cited reasons by extension for its inability to reach farmers regularly. For purposes of making relevant information to extension officers and farmers, training materials were developed based on themes or topics areas identified. According to Osei et al (2003), training topics resulting from identified training needs will have direct relevance to the needs of trainees and therefore enhance learning by adults such as farmers and extension agents. To develop suitable materials for extension agents, a training workshop was conducted for content developers. The training was to enable them be able to write courses that specified clear objectives, relate materials to experience of agricultural agents, and engage them in activities to reduce boredom while making them work through the material.
Production and use of Distance Learning Materials for programme delivery
To facilitate the production of healthy vegetables, five modules of Distance Learning Materials (DLM) were field tested with Extension and 50 copies each of the modules were produced and distributed among extension agents in the project area (See fig 1). The modules are.
The materials are linked to improvement of food security, improved nutrition and increased farmers' incomes in Ghana. The materials were written in the interactive, user friendly and personal style (like the use of `we' and `you'). Summaries were also provided at the end of each section. Each module discusses a specific area in the process of producing healthy vegetables. The area of discussion is broken down into units. Extension agents are expected to complete each unit by the end of each month. They are then expected to share their experiences at their monthly meetings in the presence of a facilitator from the research institute. An orientation workshop on use of the materials for self learning was conducted to discuss content and use for field activities. Emphasis was on field activities to be conducted under each unit of a module.
Facilitating broadcast of agricultural programs on local FM radio stations
The training materials produced formed the basis of the FM radio content delivery. Extension agents and selected farmers from the project area participated in radio discussions which were broadcast life. Recordings of radio broadcast were dubbed on audiocassettes for replay by farmer groups during their meeting days. The participation of extension agents and farmers in agricultural radio programmes has brought them and the media closer thereby demystifying the media.
The project provided monthly face-to-face support sessions over the six month delivery period for extension agents. The monthly face-to-face meetings minimised the dropout rate, increased interaction between project staff and learners and reduced isolation of learners from project staff. In this regard the role of the District Directorate of Agriculture and project staff of the Crops Research Institute was crucial in helping the agricultural agents learn effectively.
The agricultural information centre in the District was used as an important resource centre for communicating information via telephone, CD ROMs and cassette recordings. The staff of the centre played the important role of facilitating farmer-groups to access agriculture information through radio and audio cassette recordings and the formation of listening clubs to analyze agricultural radio information.
Key lessons learned in the implementation of the project are listed as follows:
The presentation has shown how Tech-MODE can be used as an appropriate intervention for fulfilling the physical and social distances between researchers, extension agents, radio stations and farming communities. The following are the way forward.
Aggor, R.A., C.K. Osei and K. Alluri (2002), Continuing Education for Agricultural Extension Agents in Ghana Using Open and Distance Learning Methods and Materials. Paper presented at the Second Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open and Distance Learning at Durban, South Africa. July 29-August 2, 2002.
Ghana Statistical Service (2000), Ghana Living Standards Survey Report 4, Accra.
MoFA (2001), Workshop report on Developing Medium Term District Agricultural Development Plan for DADU, Techiman, July 2001
Osei C.K, J.N. Berchie, I.O.O. Ansah, A.A. Ankomah and S. Gyasi-Boakye (2003). Assessing the Training Needs of Agricultural Extension Agents and Vegetable Farmers: A Case Study from the Techiman District. Ghana Journal of Horticulture vol 3. pp. 30-3
Verduin J.R. and Clark, Thomas A, (1991). Distance Education: The Foundations of Effective Practice, Jossey-Bass Publishers, Oxford.