Limpopo farmers get ICT boost

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Polokwane - Limpopo's Department of Agriculture has budgeted R6 million in this financial year to install technology-based information systems that will enable extension officers to provide relevant and accurate information to farmers instantly.

The systems, which will fall under the department's e-Agriculture project, aim to improve emerging farmers' access to information and markets through the use of information communication technologies such as the Internet and SMS messages.

It is hoped that such systems will also help to develop innovative capacity-building models that can be replicated in other parts of Africa.

Since the e-Agriculture project was launched in October last year, 215 farmers and 16 extension officers have been trained in basic ICT skills using Digital Doorways, which are robust computer stations with multiple screens that provide Internet access to rural communities.

"Our desire is to ensure that farmers access information quicker and easier, without having to rely only on extension officers. We have already installed Digital Doorways in all three districts, namely Mopani, Greater Sekhukhune and Capricorn," said department spokesperson Kenny Mathivha.

He said the department would also unveil a comprehensive communication and customer care strategy.

"This will ensure that our farmers access us and other services through the Internet, bulk cellphone SMS messaging and other means. For example, our extension officers should be able to SMS farmers to tell them not to irrigate today because it will rain tomorrow," Mathivha said.

Many emerging farmers welcomed the budget announcement. Matome Mabotsa, a vegetable farmer from Ga Sekhukhune, said rural farmers were "far behind" in using modern technology to communicate.

"It shows that the department wants to see farming in the province becoming prosperous, and it happens at a time when competition for markets is strong," said Mabotsa, a tomato and cabbage farmer.

He said maybe the new information-based systems will help them to plant crops at the right time so that they can harvest when the demand is high, which will increase the price they get.

"This will be helpful indeed. Imagine being told when to water crops and when not to - we will save a lot of money and this will improve even our spray programme," said Mabotsa.

He also praised the department's extensions officers, saying "they are playing a major role by assisting us with farming information and helping us to export our products to other provinces".