Soil and Water Conservation Innovations to Address Food Security in Africa: Role of Knowledge Management Systems in Improving Adoption
Kabuli, Amon Mkondambiri
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Malawi’s economy is predominantly agro-based with agriculture contributing to about 40% of the gross domestic product. With such heavy reliance on agriculture, increasing productivity in the sector to meet the food security demands of its 11 million people is a priority. Smallholder farmers play a big role in the production of most food crops despite the challenges they face in accessing reliable agricultural information for decisions making process. Studies have shown that smallholder farmers need diverse and complex information to support investment in modern agricultural technologies and production systems (World Bank, 1995). This is often scarce and varies tremendously with each agricultural enterprise and from one region to the other. In Malawi, the main source of agricultural knowledge for smallholders is primarily the local institutions such as neighbors, markets and community based organizations. A higher percentage of farmers (about 60%) rely on government extension service as an important source of information though the quality and frequency of information delivery is poor. NGOs are also becoming increasingly important sources of information in many areas of Malawi. Their strength lies in the ability to deliver concentrated and well packaged information related to specific enterprises to beneficiaries though in smaller sites (Rees et al. 2000). Additionally, the Malawi government has established a number of institutions to provide specialized information to farmers and other stakeholders. Two of these initiatives are the Malawi Agricultural Commodity Exchange (MACE) and the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS). The former provides farmers with market and price data on the current food and cash crops across the country while the later disseminates information on the current food security situation across 27 districts of the country. Under the MACE, innovative channels have been developed to enable farmer’s access market information for the purchase and sale of their produce and include use of radios, SMS, e-mails, market information centers, display boards and telephone. Despite the availability of such institutions in the country, dissemination and adoption of modern agricultural technologies continues to lag behind. Farmers have often complained that they do not get adequate information on technical details of the farming system as very few extension workers are available in their localities. Inadequate human resources for both government and non governmental extension and lack of resources to mobilize communities as well as poor linkages with research teams are seen as the most serious barriers to effective information flow across the spectrum (Polson etal.1991). Additionally, smallholder farmers are often times faced with poor roads and communication infrastructure which coupled with a weak network of farm input stockists and high illiteracy have denied most smallholder farmers opportunities to obtain adequate knowledge to maximize their farming potential. This has led to chronic food insecurity and unprofitable agricultural production systems.