Patrick Sakyi: Building a Generation of Tech-Savvy Farmers
How do we ensure that people living in rural settlements are carried along in the global revolution of mobile technology? How can we ensure greater efficiency in the use of technology for agricultural development?
To answer these questions and more, we spoke with Patrick Sakyi, a Monitoring & Evaluation associate with Farmerline, a social enterprise which builds innovative data collection platforms & mobile applications to improve information access for smallholder farmers in Ghana and other African countries.
Patrick holds BSc. in Agriculture Science from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana and MSc. in Nutrition and Rural Development with a specialization in Rural Economics and Management from Ghent University, Gent, Belgium. An ICT4D & ICT4Ag enthusiast, Patrick grew up in the rural Ghana and today, works closely with smallholder farmers there.
In this interview, Patrick spoke on how his growing up in rural Ghana influenced his work in using ICT to empower the livelihood of rural farmers, what he thinks the future holds for mobile technology in rural Africa, and the role young people can play in re-imagining agriculture as a dignified profession.
“Delivering extension services to farmers via mobile phones should not replace agricultural extension agents but rather become effective tools to reinforce farmer trainings, spread information about disease outbreaks, farming tips, market information, weather alerts and many more.”
“Producing food is just one component of the numerous opportunities agriculture offer to the youth. Seed multiplication, food processing, packaging, marketing, exports, etc. are other aspects that offer opportunities. Campaign efforts should also focus on these aspects. ”
“Rural community members who have moved on can give back in several ways and I think it is important we do. By giving, you might be able to help someone overcome some of the difficulties you experienced when you were once in their situation. ”
Hi Patrick! Tell us briefly about yourself and some of your fondest memory growing up in a rural community?
I come from a farm family. My parents were cocoa farmers and my mom traded in agricultural commodities as well. I grew up in a rural area in Ghana. Witnessing farming and actually practicing it by helping my parents on the farm, I decided to study agricultural science because I realised I understood the course very well in school more than the average student. I have combined my rich agricultural background with rural development and the practical applications of ICT in agriculture. Currently my work brings me in contact with farmers in rural Ghana, almost every week. I enjoy being on the field interacting with farmers, managing projects, conducting trainings and research.
The best times I enjoyed being in the village was the school holidays. My fondest memory growing up in the village includes riding a canoe on the river, playing evening games and telling stories with my siblings and other family kids who have all returned to the village to spend the school holidays.
To what extent did your experience as a boy living in a rural community influence your commitment to working with smallholder farmers?
As a young boy I witnessed and experienced the challenges that smallholders face. Anytime I go back to the rural areas, I feel like I am back to my roots. I actually enjoy the combination of working in the office and on the field. My experience growing up in a similar condition makes me understand farming and rural development issues from the farmers perspective.
Tell us briefly about your work at Farmerline and what need/s your organisation is providing the communities it works with? How does your organisation gauge the impact of its work in the communities it works with?
Farmerline is working to improve agricultural information access for smallholder famers in rural communities. We provide farmers with weather forecast, best farming practices and financial education tips as well market prices of agricultural produce from selected local markets. All these are done through farmers’ simple mobile phones and with information given to farmers through voice calls in their preferred local languages.
This eliminates the illiteracy barriers characterised with majority of smallholders in Ghana. On the other hand, we provide NGOs, farmer groups and research institutions with smart data collection applications that allow them to learn more about farmers that they work with.
Empowering farmers with information to improve their decision-making is important to us. Our information services have reached more than 7000 smallholders farmers in Ghana. Our data collection tools are being used in 5 African countries including Ghana, with our information and data collection tools used in information dissemination and profiling over 200,000 farmers.
For people, especially smallholder farmers, who do not understand the concept or relevance of technology to agricultural development, how will you explain it to them?
Smallholders tend to have small and seasonal income. So for most farmers, their decision to use new technology or to pay to use it is based on the value the technology can offer them. You have to explain to them in simple terms, the problem the technology can solve and the value it will give them. It can be a gradual process, where you begin with a few farmers who are early adopters. Their testimonies about the technology can influence the decision of other farmers to use the technology.
How has the increase in mobile phone penetration in Africa impacted agricultural development, especially in local communities?
Mobile phones have positively changed the way farmers communicate and transact business. The farmers we have been working with use basic mobile phones. These phones when fully charged can last for a whole week until the next charging is needed. This makes it ideal for use in rural areas where they don’t have access to electricity. With mobile phones, long distance communication got easier. Extension services can now be offered through mobile phones. Mobile phones are there to enhance the work of agricultural extension but not to replace it.
With just the spread of market information including produce prices from various markets to farmers, effective and fair markets chains are developed. Sharing information in market chains are important otherwise the farmers are usually at the losing end while intermediaries with the chains reap all the benefits.
The use of mobile money services is also spreading to the rural areas. This is one sure ways of financial inclusion for smallholders. There are farmers who have registered for more than one mobile money account. Some have one for savings and another for daily or household expenses. More awareness creation is still needed in the rural areas.
How can we ensure greater efficiency in the use of technology for agricultural development?
The private sector should work with existing institutions to bring technology and services to farmers. For instance, delivering extension services to farmers via mobile phones should not replace agricultural extension agents but rather become effective tools to reinforce farmer trainings, spread information about disease outbreaks, farming tips, market information, weather alerts and many more.
Governments should encourage the private sector and reward or create conducive environment entrepreneurs, start ups to flourish.
Awareness creation and sensitizing the users of the technology right from the beginning of any intervention is important for effective usage and sustainability aspects as well.
A substantial number of rural youths are leaving farming largely due to their perception of farming being antiquated and unprofitable, yet unemployment persist. In your opinion, do you think efforts to redefine the traditional image of agriculture have been successful? What alternatives can we look at to make agriculture more desirable to this generation?
There is more to be done in order to redefine the traditional image of agriculture. I think campaigns should also focus attention in schools. Students who don’t study agriculture have a role to play. In senior high school, students who did not study agriculture always enjoyed making fun of students who studied agriculture because when a student misbehaved in school, the student was given a plot of land to clear or weed as a punishment. Agriculture should be attractive and a chosen profession.
Producing food is just one component of the numerous opportunities agriculture offer to the youth. Seed multiplication, food processing, packaging, marketing, exports, etc. are other aspects that offer opportunities. Campaign efforts should also focus on these aspects.
Reading your article about his boyhood rural experience in Ghana, it is commendable that you didn’t leave your primary home to the luxury of the urban life. In reference to this, why do you think it is important for rural community members who have moved on, to look back and give back to their community?
First I think it is important that people don’t forget about their roots, rural roots in this instance. Many people with rural roots have not forgotten about their roots but just some refuse to accept that this was the situation they once experienced probably due to some difficulties encountered. But once you are able to overcome that and accept, you turn your experience, even it was difficult, into something positive.
Rural community members who have moved on can give back in several ways and I think it is important we do. By giving, you might be able to help someone overcome some of the difficulties you experienced when you were once in their situation. Giving back could be in the form of youth mentoring, volunteering on community projects, bringing important services such as health screening, clean drinking water, back to the people, amongst others. There are people who heading big companies and banks. Perhaps their corporate social responsibility efforts can be directed to giving back to rural communities.
Having grew up in a rural community and your present commitment to rural development, if you could leave behind any message for people working in rural communities, what would it be?
Rural areas lack basic facilities such as good drinking water, health facilities, electricity, education, good roads amongst others. You may have a great idea but before you design an intervention, it is important to engage and listen to the local people first. This will help to identify and address their most pressing needs. It will also ensure active community participation and intervention ownership.
Photo Credit: Patrick Sakyi