Will social media help improve farmers’ access to financial services, given that Nigeria’s Guaranty Trust Bank has simplified account opening by creating opportunity for transaction on Facebook?
How will social media impact farming?
Television and radio are dominated by news of Africans dying, especially from hunger, or while escaping to Europe from famine and poor infrastructure. Broadcast media is apparently a gauge of the changing times; passage of time from relative stability to apparent unpredictability and even volatility. But a more discernable evidence of changes in African society has been the advent of social media. Social media is increasingly connecting an urbanising continent with arts and entertainment, painting a new image of Africa. Though that is praiseworthy, the role of social media in bringing relevant information to farmers is only getting some interest.
Will social media help improve farmers’ access to financial services, given that Nigeria’s Guaranty Trust Bank has simplified account opening by creating opportunity for transaction on Facebook? Will social media improve farmers’ access to markets? Some commentators consider the influences of social media and the internet overrated in Africa, at least with respect to access to agricultural extension information and educational programming. Perhaps their scepticism is justified. In most countries, those who need access to agricultural extension services and products are not users of social media and the internet. Factors such as poor internet penetration and low literacy have limited the potentials of farmers adopting some of the new technologies.
Though advances in technology have pushed power into the hands of consumers, the consumers have shorter attention spans and are desirous of interacting with the content producers. Herein lies the dilemma posed by the dawn of social media and the internet in Africa, as well as West Africa. Many specialists propose that for social media to gain relevance with Nigerian farmers, a huge number of youths that constitute more than half of the population need to internalise the message of venturing into farming. Only then can social media play the stabilising role of galvanising citizens’ access to food and access to markets for farmers.
A number of noteworthy developments are taking place in West Africa. Nigeria has placed 10 million mobile phones in the hands of farmers; Niger Republic’s farmers get agricultural extension services through mobile phone network service providers Orange; while Esoko software in Ghana is effortlessly networking farmers and buyers of farm produce. But these are not yet shoving the traditional media aside just yet.
“Looking at future trends, technology is changing fast but seems to be enhancing rather than replacing radio”, writes Mary Myers in ‘Radio and Development in Africa’, a concept paper prepared for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada in 2008. Same can be said of TV, with almost every TV station now placing content on YouTube, the video sharing platform, and also developing software applications that allow users upload stories, including videos. Further, using the Universal Service Provision Fund, a special endowment generated by taxing mobile telecoms companies, Nigeria’s regulator is providing services to under-served rural locations that are not commercially viable. This has provided opportunities for smart methods of providing extension services using video conferencing tools like Skype to link farmers with experts based in academic research institutes located in urban areas. The future is coming, it seems.
Odoh Diego Okenyodo