Background to the Problem
According to World Food Summit (1996), food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Hoffman (2010, p.152) observes that the Internet is “the most important innovation since the development of the printing press\” and that it will “radically transform not just the way individuals go about conducting their business with each other, but also the very essence of what it means to be a human being in society”.
According to Chowdhury (2011, p.12), Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) “store, process, share, display, protect, and manage information” (p. 12). ICT is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and access to ICT can enable small farmers to participate in the global market, thus increasing food supply and access (Chowdhury, 2011, p.70). Lashgarara et. al (2008) identify several ways in which ICT can be used to increase food security, including (a) increasing access to real-time market information, (b) fostering agricultural diversification, and (c) increasing the knowledge base of small agricultural businesses by improving access to global knowledge bases, including the world wide web (p. 70).
McLaren et al., (2009) opine that ICT can help eliminate the ‘last mile’ problem often found in rural areas, which refers to the expense and effort related to delivering connectivity to customers who are spread out geographically.
Addressing this problem will be one of the means to achieving the goal of increasing access to knowledge and real-time market information suggested by Lashgarara et al., (2008). For example, geographic information systems (GIS) can be used to provide spatial mapping of food access (one of the important markers of food security), as well as more sophisticated analyses of food price and availability (McEntee & Agyeman, 2010). As noted by Hwang and Smith (2010), ICT and GIS can have a positive influence on food security when utilized within a web mapping framework. By using GIS and global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) and integrating with technologies that promote communication between farm implements, tractors, and computers, protocols have been developed that can trace food from the source to the market (Gebbers & Adamchuk, 2010).
Gebbers and Adamchuk (2010) believe that this merger of communication and GIS, and the management of the information gathered, will optimize production and help ensure that food supplies are correctly routed to meet current demands. Knowledge management systems (Brown & Duguid, 2002), specifically the utilization of databases populated by information gathered via GIS (Ostry & Morrison, 2009), web mapping frameworks (Hwang & Smith, 2010), and information gathered through precision agricultural systems (Gebbers & Adamchuk, 2010), combine information and communication technologies with geographic information and navigation systems.
This combination of technologies allows information to be used effectively and to improve food security by cross-referencing the information gathered by the various technologies with the hunger indices identified (Masset, 2011).
Letshela (1999) says that the greatest challenge facing the agricultural sector is the delivery of relevant information to farmers on time. Lwoga (2010) goes on to say Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are the effective means of sharing relevant information and knowledge and thus contributing to socio-economic growth among the farmers. Food Security goal was at the heart of the New York special siting in September 2015 of United Nations on setting of new goals of the Millennium Development Goals.
Samia population still lacks enough food for their ever growing families, because methods used to access information on agriculture are still traditional. It has been argued that there is need for a new approach in understanding and finding solutions to the great challenge facing African agricultural development. In this regard, Jones (2006) suggested that technical innovation be accompanied by institutional change, where all stakeholders, including farmers, would be involved. He states that increases in agricultural production will come from application of new knowledge and innovations.
Researchers, civil society, government and private sector organizations have developed innovative technologies and best practices to modernize small-scale agriculture but most of these technologies do not get to the intended beneficiaries. The old extension service delivery system that was meant to pass on research outputs to farmers in Africa has proved inefficient, and most of these institutions have inadequate machinery and capacity to share and disseminate outputs widely to small-scale farmers and it has been pointed out that the key to reversing this trend is to develop agriculture and industry through science, technology and innovation (ECA, 2005). ICTs interventions increase real time access to relevant information and knowledge which may lead to high agricultural production thus ensuring that there is food security, especially in the rural areas. Quick access to relevant information can enable small-scale farmers to make informed decisions regarding their agricultural activities. Though, developing countries such as Kenya are constrained in their ability to access agricultural information through ICTs for their agricultural growth, statistics show that the majority of the Africa’s population (71.3%) does not have access to the internet (Internet World Stats, 2016).
It’s argued that new discoveries and the application of technologies will drive agriculture, medicine, income growth and new materials in the 21st Century. Forecasts and predictions suggest that by 2020, emerging new technologies such as precision agriculture and sophisticated computer technologies will become possible in Africa (ECA, 2005). Juma and Yee Cheong (2005:15) defined new technologies as including new applications regardless of whether the technologies have been used in other parts of the world and include the use of emerging technologies such as information and communication technologies (ICTs) and biotechnology.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 2007:3) further emphasized this point and stated that technological advances in small-scale agricultural production and trade are often critical in initiating a catching-up process. According to the World Bank (2002 Strategy Paper on ICT cited in IICD, 2006), information and communication technologies are a key input for economic development and growth. ICTs have been used in some of the large- scale farms and the commercial sector to tap opportunities and address some of the challenges facing farmers.
However, relatively little attention has been paid to their potential benefits to small-scale farmers. The focus by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) on ICTs and small-scale agriculture is therefore timely, and it will contribute to the efforts of other players for effective global, regional and national partnerships. Jensen (2001) also pointed out that most local farmers cannot obtain up-to-date agricultural information thus affecting the manner in which small-scale farmers, and other actors and rural areas, in Africa need space to contribute towards their own development. ICTs could help address some of the issues and challenges they face and enhance communication and delivery of critical knowledge, information and service.
It is worth noting that small farmers and producers living in less-accessible areas have been hardest hit by these challenges and as concluded by Kidane, Maetz and Dardel (2006), unless Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries create a condition for smallholder farmers to improve their labour productivity through technological change and enhanced capital assets, and invest in the development of labour-saving technologies, it is difficult to envisage a significant production increase through area expansion. There is, however, a need to create focal points of informal or formal interactions, in form of consortia, associations or networks. Some of the emerging ICT applications in small-scale agriculture in Africa include Geographic Information System (GIS), Decision Support Systems (DSS), management information system (MIS), distance learning, databases, land use planning, public access facilities, mobile applications, restructuring of extension and personal digital assistants (PDAs) Munyua (2007). Precision farming is currently practiced by large-scale farms that can afford the high investment, skills and expertise required. These modern ICTs could play a major role in communicating knowledge and information to rural agricultural farmers, delivering education modules, accessing inputs, facilitating networking and strengthening partnerships, scaling up inter-linkages of development interventions and increasing agricultural productivity. Media such as the internet, web-based means, and mobile telephony, video, audio cassettes, CD-ROM, radio, fax and computer-mediated networks among others are being used in a number of initiatives in Africa to provide development solutions- eTransform Africa ( Yonazi et. al2012). Thus access to relevant and use of agricultural information by use of ICTs lends itself as one of the crucial factors that has an important bearing on food security of any area.
1.2 Farming in Kenya
Farming activities in Kenya are very challenging, putting in mind that in rural Kenya, increasing numbers of environmental shocks (such as flooding and drought) and degradation of agricultural land are contributing to increasing pressures on small-holder farmers. Many need to intensify their food production even where productivity of land is already severely compromised (FAO, 2007).
1.3 Overview of Samia Sub-County
The Samia speaking people as widely known by other tribes predominantly live in Samia Sub-County (both in Kenya and Uganda) and speak kisamia, (African press international, 2008). Samia Sub-County is in the larger Busia County in Western Kenya. It borders Uganda along Lake Victoria to the west, Bunyala Sub-County to the south, Siaya County to the south east and Matayos Sub County to the north. It occupies an area of 264.2Km2 with a population density of 334 persons per square kilometer (KNBS, 2010). The Sub-County has only one division, Funyula, seven locations and twenty nine sub locations.
Traditionally agriculturalists, they grow different crops depending on the locations they live in. Close to Lake Victoria, the Samia are mainly fishermen, with their other main agricultural economic activity being growing of cassava, millet, sweet potatoes, beans, maize and cotton, but also horticulture crops such sukuma week and tomatoes. They also keep a few livestock such as goats, sheep and cows (Kenya Food Security Outlook, 2015). Over the years, the government has been urged by leaders in the area to provide relief food to starving Samia sub county residents, Frankline Bwire (2012). If the area such as Samia with a lot of resources needs food as per the request of the Sub-County leaders then something is wrong and that needs to be investigated
According to the area government officers, crops for farmers in the southern and northern parts of the Sub-County fail due to drought thus resulting to poor harvest. At the same time erratic rainfall pattern in the area makes the situation quite unpleasant. Pests and diseases do not spare crops that try to resist the weather condition.
Farmers in the area should diversify their farming activities by planting drought resistant crops using the improved seeds to ensure food security. The farmers are encouraged to cultivate drought resistant crops that are certified and by taking advantage of the available agricultural experts to equip themselves with information that is vital for farming activities.
Busia County Integrated Plan (2013 – 2017) lists the main crops in the Sub-County as maize, sorghum, beans and finger millet. Thus situation where Sub County finds itself asking for food from the government is unaccepted in the 21st century, with other resources available such as Lake Victoria.
Figure 1.1 Farming activities in Samia Sub-County
1.3.1 Challenges the Farmers Experience
A number of factors contribute to localized poverty including declining soil fertility due
to land degradation and failing markets particularly for agricultural inputs (i.e. seeds and
fertilizer) among farmers in Samia sub county. Furthermore a lack of alternative employment as well as few income generating activities exist. Meanwhile, high costs of production, increasing food prices, pests and diseases and reduced land holdings are occurring as well as increasing population pressure and continuous sub divisions of land (Place et al., 2013). For many farmers in the sub county, these variables challenge their future survival.
Besides, increasing numbers of environmental shocks (such as flooding and drought) and stresses (such as degradation of agricultural land) are contributing to increasing pressures on smallholder farmers in the district. Many need to intensify their food production even where productivity of land is already severely compromised (FAO, 2007). Some farmers have the capabilities, instead of relying wholly on subsistence agriculture to diversify their income sources while others have managed to maintain, or even improve their productivity levels; ensuring income and consumption needs are met. Social contacts, groups and networks are also recognised for their role in creating and improving household resilience in Samia sub county (Place, 2013).
1.4 Statement of the Problem
Achieving food security is the greatest challenge of mankind (Raj, 2010). Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) as a tool of communication have a potential to contribute to achieving food security significantly. In the 21st century, speed, high performance, and convenience of every activity have become a common demand for each and every sector and agriculture is no exception. But to majority of us ICTs are seen us urban phenomena which have nothing to do with rural people. As agriculture continues to be a major income earner for small scale farmers, how to obtain reliable, timely and relevant information for their agricultural activities becomes a very important aspect (Diekmann, Loibl, and Batte 2009 cited in Babu, Glendenning, Asenso-Okyere, and Govindarajan, 2012).
An agricultural information system would play a key role in disseminating knowledge, technologies and agricultural information, and in linking farmers with other actors in the economy. This system is one of the critical change agents required in transforming subsistence farming to a modern and commercial agriculture to promote household food security, improve income and reduce poverty in an area such as Samia Sub County. However, there is limited access to agricultural information in Samia Sub County leading to a perpetual food insecurity scenario in the sub county. This situation has hindered most farmers from keeping pace with changing technological advances in the sub county.
Modern ICTs could play a major role in communicating information and knowledge to rural agricultural communities, delivering education modules, accessing inputs, planting methods, conducting business, facilitating networking and strengthening partnerships, scaling up inter-linkages of development interventions and increasing agricultural productivity. Inadequate agricultural information-research–extension–farmer linkages to facilitate demand-driven research and increased use of improved technologies continue to constrain efforts to increase agricultural productivity in Samia Sub County as farmers continue to use outdated and ineffective technologies.
As Golan et al., (2014) notes, food safety is an important aspect of food security and can be better administered through information systems that manage food traceability and aid in making “informed decisions about agricultural productivity”.
This then begs the question, ‘what kinds of agricultural knowledge management systems could be effectively implemented to increase food safety and security’?
This then brings to the fore the need of developing an agricultural information system that can link research and the farmers and hence enhance food security in the region.
1.5 Aim and Objectives of the Study
The aim of this study was to examine how farmers access agricultural information with a view to developing a web-based information system to enhance the access towards food security in Samia Sub-County.
1.5.2 Objectives of the Study
This study was guided by the following objectives:
1. To determine ways through which farmers access agricultural information in Samia sub county.
2. To determine opportunities that ICT-based agricultural information systems present to farmers in Samia Sub County.
3. To identify factors that influence access and utilization of agricultural information by small-scale farmers in Samia Sub County.
4. To model and build a prototype web-based agricultural information system that supports access to agricultural information by farmers in Samia Sub County.
1.6 Research Questions
This study was guided by the following questions:
1. Which are the approaches through which farmers’ access agricultural information in Samia Sub County?
2. What are the opportunities that ICT-based agricultural information systems can present to farmers in Samia Sub County?
3. What factors influence access and utilization of agricultural information by small-scale farmers in Samia Sub County?
4. Can a prototype agricultural information system design be used to access agricultural information for farmers in Samia Sub County? What should be in cooperated in the design?
1.7 Scope of the Study
This research was carried out in the Samia sub county within the larger Busia County. The choice to work on small-scale agriculture in Samia sub county was influenced by the major role the agricultural sector plays in poverty alleviation and ensuring food security in the district. ICTs, small-scale agriculture and food security are a key focus under the new strategic plan of IDRC’s Acacia Program and The Kenya Agricultural Information Network (KAINet, 2009). Samia was chosen for the study because of non-accessibility to agricultural information on time and on demand by its farmers. The agricultural information system developed was limited to the core agricultural activities such as knowing planting time, types of seeds to plant, land preparation, storage, weeds and pest control and animal and fish keeping due to time constraints. Thus it was not to be a fully-fledged district system which includes management information system, credits information system among others. This was to enable the researcher to focus on agricultural information service and develop an appropriate agricultural system to be utilized by farmers in accessing agricultural information.
The study was guided by the assumption that lack of a web-based agricultural information system coupled with poor infrastructure such as power and strong network along the border have hindered Samia district from adopting information systems.
1.9 Significance of the Study
It is hoped that the developed multi-criteria web-based agricultural information system will benefit various stakeholders in the agricultural sector in Samia sub county as shown below.
a) Farmers in Samia sub county will benefit from the agricultural information system. The system will enable farmers in the sub county to access information they want at the click of a button. This will enable them to satisfy their information needs
b) Agricultural officers will be able to offer agricultural information in an easy way and in a manner that will enhance food security in the sub county. They will also offer real time services to farmers.
c) District administration team will have easy access to agricultural information on food security in their areas of administration and thus make it easy for them to plan for sub county development.
d) Students’ access to agricultural information will help them to embrace the technology in agriculture while still in school and likely to move into agriculture after school.
e) Knowledge- it is hoped that the findings of this research will contribute to the existing knowledge on access of agricultural information and use of ICTs as a tool in the provision of information for enhancement of food security in Samia sub county, Kenya.
f) Food Security it is hoped that ICTs are important tool (infrastructure/medium) in provision of information accessibility by farmers for improving food security.
1.10 Definition of Operational Terms
Agricultural Information System (AIS): A system, in which agricultural information is
generated, transformed, transferred, consolidated, received and fed back in such a manner that these processes function synergistically to underpin knowledge utilization by farmers.
Web-Based Agricultural Information System: An agricultural information system on
the internet that allows farmers and potential users to query and obtain the desired agricultural information.
Information Communication Technology: An umbrella term that includes any
communication device or application, encompassing: radio, television, cellular phones, computer and network hardware and software applied in the development and execution of an agricultural system.
Farming: All agricultural activities targeted in the study such as livestock keeping, fishing and crop planting.
Access: Being in a position to get agricultural information which should be (available on demand, relevant, ease to use and on real time) through a Web-based information system using direct access into UNIN servers, through ICTs as tool.
Mobile phone: This is an electronic device used for two-way radio telecommunications over a cellular network of base stations known as cell sites. A mobile phone can be carried anywhere anytime. It uses rechargeable cells. Mobile phones also support additional services such as short messaging service, email, internet access gaming, bluetooth, and camera.
External Variable: Controls which are beyond the farmers and the researcher for example, government ICT policy, power, hardware price and security.
Attitude: A cause of intention, for example, a farmer having a positive attitude towards using a developed agricultural information system.
Behavioral: Trends among farmers in making them accept ICT as a tool for them to access agricultural information.
This chapter presents review of related literature on agricultural information systems and how farmers access their agricultural information. The review of literature provides a critique of the studies done by individual people, groups or organizations. The researcher was motivated by the desire to identify and evaluate opinions, knowledge and attitudes of various studies on access to agricultural information and development of agricultural information systems with regard to enhanced food security. The sources of literature included books, journals, seminar papers, theses, periodicals, magazines, newspapers, commission reports and other relevant documents. Noteworthy is the fact that a lot of this literature was retrieved from the internet. The purpose of literature review is to provide a basis for the present study. Guided by the work done by other scholars, the study sought to examine how farmers access agricultural information with a view to developing a web-based information system to enhance food security in Samia sub county. The chapter also presents the theoretical framework on which the study was grounded.
2.1.1 The Concept of Agricultural Information
Having adequate and well-presented information will improve the efficiency of rural development, policies, projects and programmes. Agricultural information provision should be the basic component of rural development programmes. Oladele (2011) observed that lack of agricultural information is a key factor that has greatly limited agricultural advancement in developing countries. Thus, agricultural information interacts with, and influences, agricultural activities in a variety of ways. This tends to imply that agricultural information can help inform decision-making regarding land, labour, livestock, capital and management.
Agricultural information is not static but, instead, needs replenishment through research and development. For this reason, Opara (2008) argues that agricultural activities can arguably be improved by relevant, reliable and useful information and knowledge. Besides, Mooko and Aina (2007) opine that agricultural information is an essential recipe for successful farming. These same recipes can therefore be applied in Samia Sub-County to increase productivity. Invwieri (2007) opined that, rural people (farmers) who are mainly illiterate require access to appropriate information to be able to make decisions and participate fully in the national development processes, including agriculture.
2.1.2 Agricultural Information Generation Output and Types
Ballantyne (2008) and Demiryurek, et al., (2009) indicate that information generation is a process of creating, developing and communicating ideas which are abstract, concrete or visual. It is important to emphasize that the type of information generated revolve around scientific, commercial and legal information).
188.8.131.52 Scientific Information
Agriculture is generally interdisciplinary in nature. For agriculture to be fully developed, farmers need information from different disciplines. Scientific information is one of the innumerable examples which are generated from universities and research institutes. In India, for instance, Chandrasekan et al., (2010) and Rao, (2007), opine that agricultural information in India is mainly derived from universities and research institutes. It includes scientific information which deals with research and development works carried out in universities and research institutes. Scientific information is aimed at providing information on new crops varieties, their requirements and technical assistance during growing season. The characteristic of this information relates with climate, weather, drought and water stress periods, water sources, quality and availability.
In Turkey, Demiryurek et al., (2008) argue that agricultural research is usually carried out in research institutes and the objectives of such institutes are to provide farmers with information on best practices. Demiryurek (ibid.) further noted that as a result of information dissemination to dairy farmers in Turkey, functional cooperation between public and private information sources in the system is needed to motivate conventional dairy farmers to convert into modern dairy farming systems.
Emad-Kharasani (2009:17) in Iran seem to concur with Demiryurek et al. view that, “Nowadays, scientific and technical information is considered as a basis for material and intellectual sources in different societies and any society which is able to access more information automatically has more potentiality”.
Oladele (2006) hold the view that agricultural information is generated in universities and research institutions. This result emanates from a research on multilingualism of farm broadcast and agricultural information access in Nigeria. Oladele, (2006) also pointed out that such information includes scientific and commercial information. It is indicative that research and development has the ability to create a pool of scientific and technical information with a great wealth in modern societies.
Therefore, research and development departments existing in the various universities in Kenya are a platform for creating material intellectual sources which can enhance Kenya’s wealth. Demiryurek, et al. (2008), Opara (2008) and Ekpenyong (2011) all provide further evidence that agricultural information is generated from universities and research institutes. They report that information generated from these institutions include, among others, information on pest and weed control, weather forecast, credit facilities, fertilizer and legislations on general agricultural practices. Indeed farmers in Kenya, like their counterparts from Asia and other parts of Africa, need scientific and technical information because it is among the most important information needed for wealth creation and national development.
This is corroborated by Ugboma (2010) in a study on access to agricultural information by fish farmers in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, where it reveals that 98 percent of fish farmers studied prefer scientific information.
184.108.40.206 Commercial Information
Commercial information is another type of information generated by research institutes as well as the universities. This information deals with price control, price of fertilizers, price of seeds and sale of agricultural products. Maru (2008) and Renwick (2010) in separate studies carried out in India and the Caribbean respectively reported that research institutes are behind the generation of commercial information that is related to markets. This type of information is related to production, productivity and profit enhancement. It therefore covers information on commodity price, food quality and safety as well as labeling information.
Maru (2008) asserts that agriculture is an interdisciplinary activity that requires information from different disciplines and that commercial information is a key to farmers who sell their produce. The fact that farmers require diverse information has been echoed by various researchers including those in Lesotho where Mokotjo and Kalusopa (2010:352) attested that “farmers need to have access to agricultural information in order to improve their agricultural production and that farmers need to have access to financial information for their actual performance as well as access to credit”.
In a related development, Opara (2008) supports the fact that agricultural information is generally generated in universities and research institutes and that such information pertains to credit facilities, fertilizer and legislations on agriculture. The study was based on agricultural information sources used by farmers in Imo State, Nigeria.
Similarly, in Nigerian context, Ugwu and Kanu (2011) maintain that most of the agricultural information in Nigeria is generated from universities or commercial outlets as to where a farmer can find fertilizer, credit facilities, cost of inputs and its quality, transaction costs, labour supply and demand, distribution, selling options, agricultural insurance, market price and quality requirements. The availability of commercial information enhances farmers’ performances and without it, farmers will be skeptical as to what to produce, how to locate, potential market to sell their produce. To buttress the point that farmers in Africa need commercial information, Meyer and Boon (2003) buttress that South African farmer’s wanted information on how to give loans and the repayment of such loans. It is therefore of significance that the agricultural information system enhances access to commercial agricultural information for farmers.
220.127.116.11 Legal Information
These are generally laws grouped under the heading of “agricultural laws”, that relate to the production activities, as they are carried out in a commercial setting (Kaniki, 1995). There are numerous statutes in Kenya that subsidize, regulate or otherwise directly affect agricultural activity. These may deal not only with plants and animals but also with land use, environmental rules, and the use of food products.
Hence, with the increasing sophistication of farming process, issues of intellectual property, trade, finance, credit and generally commercial transaction, often arise. All legislations that affect agriculture such as land tenure, the production, distribution and sales of agricultural produce come under this category of legal information (Aina, 1995). This type of information often forms the domain of extension workers, policy makers and farmers.
From the foregoing, it is apparent that farmers in Samia District and all over the country require diverse information, whether scientific, commercial, or legal as long as that information hinges on the success of what they do. Consequently, any farmer who sells his produce will need commercial information, in the same way that he or she will need information about the weather, soil, buyers, loan facilities, et cetera. Therefore universities and other institutes which produce interdisciplinary information are very crucial to farmers in Africa who need different information to improve yields and production. In a related development, Ozowa (2008) in a study contends that agricultural information is generated through research efforts from universities and is categorized as: (i) agricultural technology, (ii) agricultural credit and (iii) marketing. Ozowa’s contribution is based on a study on information needs of small scale farmers in Nigeria.
These findings confirm that farmers in many parts of Africa, and Kenya in particular, require technical information about pest control, new seedlings, use of machines and other equipment. Farmers all over the world require a range of information from the weather, loans, soil, seeds, farming mechanisms, control and management, harvesting, storage, marketing, sale, investments and repayment of loans (Opara, 2008).
An investigation of empirical literature reveals that agricultural information output is varied and extensive, hence, it needs to be generated, disseminated and be used by specific farmers based on their different needs Oladele, (2011); Ballantyne, (2009); and Ozowa, (2008). Some of the evidences from the review clearly show that not all information that is generated reaches the end user. Similarly, the research findings of Aina (1995) are still reminiscence of today’s occurrences, where it was reported that sometimes the form of information generated for farmers is not used because of the medium of communication, time allotted to air agricultural programmes, the language used in communicating information, and the attitude of the end user (farmers).
So far, the review shows a disconnection which may be one of the contributing factors why generated agricultural information has not been sufficiently used in Africa. A striking example is Nigeria, where most rural famers are illiterate and most of the information generated from universities and research institutes have not been stepped down to suit the end user.
2.2 Theoretical Framework
A theoretical framework is a collection of interrelated ideas based on theories, it is a reasoned set of propositions, which are derived from and supported by data or evidence. They are meant to account for phenomena by clarifying why things are the way they are (Okombo and Tromp 2006). A theoretical framework guides the research in determining what things to measure and the relationships between them. This study was grounded on the Systems Theory advanced by Spedding (1988).
A system is a group of interacting components, operating together for a common purpose (Spedding 1988). According to Checkland (1981) a system is a model of an entity. It is characterized in terms of its hierarchical structure, emergent properties, communication and control. The term subsystem is equivalent to system, contained within a larger system.
The system approach is a way of looking at an entity and dealing with problems in order to identify and improve the particular system. It can be applied to any subject (Spedding 1988). The system approach has also shown a high potential for offering a conceptual framework to analyse, manage and improve a current system and to design a better one (Cavallo 1982). Models of social system can be used as a tool for analysing the information requirements of actors involved in a system (Checkland & Holwell 1998).
In general system theory, an information system is accepted as a system, automated or manual, that comprises people, machines, and/or methods organized to collect, process, transmit, and disseminate data which represent information. Ciborra (2002:5) proposes that information systems \”deal with the deployment of information technology in organizations, institutions, and society at large\”. Thus information systems are also social systems whose behaviour is heavily influenced by the goals, values and beliefs of individuals and groups, as well as the performance of the technology (Angel & Smithson 1991).
Roling, defends the usefulness of the system approach to analyse agricultural information and defines an agricultural information system as
…a system in which agricultural information is generated, transformed, consolidated, received and fed back… to underpin knowledge utilisation by agricultural producers. (1988: 33)
Accordingly, an agricultural information system consists of components (subsystems), information related processes (generation, transformation, storage, retrieval, integration, diffusion and utilisation), system mechanisms (interfaces and networks) and system operations (control and management). In addition, the analysis of the agricultural information system in a specific farming system may provide the identification of basic components and structure of the system, the different sources of information used by different components in the system, the understanding of how successfully the system works and how to improve system performance (system management) (Demiryurek 2000). This theory is also useful to identify possible defaults and improve the coordination between components (i.e., information management).
Some authors criticize the system approach to agricultural information system and especially knowledge dissemination and its ultimate utilization. They defend a different approach, namely an actor-oriented view (Long 1984; Leeuwis et al. 1991; Leeuwis 2004). They emphasize that knowledge and information are the elements of a single process in which information is internalized to become a part of knowledge. Thus, it is difficult to distinguish between knowledge and information. The actor-oriented approach views knowledge processes as social processes which may lead to conflict among social groups or common perceptions and interests. Ramkumar (1995) developed an actor-oriented information system approach which considers the farmers\’ social, economic and cultural characteristics. This approach helps to understand the complexity of farmers\’ information systems and their relations with other systems.
In turn, the actor-oriented approach was also criticized because of its more individual base and main focus on specific social interaction. Thus, the agricultural information system is a holistic approach and can be used to identify the components of a system, to analyze its performance, and to design a better one. The system theory therefore, despite the few criticism, remains the preferred theory for analyzing agricultural information systems.
2.3 Sources and Access to Agricultural Information
Any system producing or containing information intended for transmission is an information source. Information sources are distinguished by the form of representation; textual (books, journals, manuscripts), graphic (graphs, diagrams, plans, charts), and audio visual (sound recordings, motion pictures, slides). The characteristics of a good information source are relevance, timelessness, accuracy, accessibility, cost effectiveness, reliability, usability, exhaustiveness and aggregation level (Feather and Sturges, 2014). Oladele (2009) stresses that the efficiency of technologies generated and disseminated depend on effective communication which is the key process of information dissemination. Therefore, it is expected that the message from the client should be passed back to the source or researchers for the communication process to be complete.
Despite the attempts at technological innovation transfer, the wide gap between the levels of production which research contends is attainable and that which farmers achieve, suggests a missing link (Oladele, 2009). What is more, weak linkages between the farmer, extension workers, and researchers mean that the farmers are not included in the planning of the innovation hence; they do not know where to get information, despite the fact that they are the end users. Agricultural information disseminated by different information sources needs to be determined. It is imperative therefore to identify the sources of agricultural information utilized by farmers. This was one of the objectives of this study.
Opara (2008) investigated the overall sources of agricultural information available to farmers in Imo State (Nigeria), as well as the farmers’ preferred sources. The study reveals that 88.1% of the farmers’ source of agricultural information was through extension agents. Similarly, Ozowa (2008) shows that among all the existing channels of communication, farmers in Nigeria ranked extension workers the highest in providing credible information and advice. The investigation was carried out on small farmers in Imo state, Nigeria.
Mokotjo and Kalusopa (2010) in their survey study found out that print sources are among the sources of information to farmers in Lesotho. Their study reveals that, though most of the farmers have acquired primary education, the agricultural information delivered to them is written in local languages. This enables them to utilize the information effectively. It also demonstrates the high literacy level in Lesotho and indeed according to the literacy rate in Africa, Lesotho occupies the seventh position with a literacy rate of 84.80% (Aneki, 2012). However, only 13% out of 61.7% of the farmers in Lesotho are of the views that print media is one of the appropriate technologies to disseminate information. However, Lwoga, Stilwell and Ngulube (2011) significantly differ from Mokotjo and Kalusopa (2010). For them, print materials have low usage due to their unavailability and illiteracy levels of most of the farmers in Tanzania.
The mass media also provides support for the growing involvement of farmers/producers and their organizations in the information dissemination arena. The rapid development of information technologies has profoundly changed the media landscape in African countries. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is a term that combines computer and telecommunications technology in handling, acquiring, processing, storing and disseminating information (Chauhan, 2009; and Malhan, 2007). Information and Communication Technology is a general or an all-inclusive term that embraces all those technologies that are employed in collecting, storing, organizing and communicating information in various forms (Chisita, 2010).