Improving Farmer Services by Understanding Their Information Needs
13 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2011 Last revised: 28 Mar 2015
Date Written: December 23, 2011
The agriculture sector employs the largest percentage of the work force in South Asia (53.3% in 2005). However, by 2009 its percentage as a share of the GDP was about 18% making it the lowest contributor to GDP amongst Agriculture, Industry and Services (World Bank, 2011).
The available literature cites a variety of reasons for the lower productivity and efficiency of the sector in South Asia – land fragmentation (Niroula and Thapa, 2005, Rahman and Rahman, 2008 and Tana, Heerinkb, Kuyvenhovenb, and Quc, 2010), institutional markets inefficiencies (Lokanathan and de Silva 2010), low quality inputs such as planting material, fertilizer and pesticides (Mwangi, 1996) and lack of knowledge of proper farming practices (Ruttan, 2002).
Land fragmentation inhibits efficiency and productivity since small land sizes often prevent farmers from exploiting economies of scale and from adopting innovative agricultural practices (Niroula and Thapa, 2005). Similarly, the use of inferior quality inputs, such as seeds and fertilizer, results in low yields and hence poor productivity. The use of inferior quality inputs is often due the unavailability of high quality inputs and the lack of appropriate knowledge amongst farmers, which is exacerbated by failures in agricultural extension (Kapugama et al., 2011; Perera et al, 2011). Finally, at the time o selling, inefficient markets arise due to inability of the markets to clear resulting in a mismatch between supply and demand. These market inefficiencies make it difficult for farmers to effectively engage in markets (Barret, 2005, Fafchamps, 2004, World Banks, 2002). The mismatch is more acute when relevant complimentary infrastructure such as cold storage and warehousing are not available, which is often the case in developing economies.
Whilst a majority of the above mentioned issues can be found in most developing countries, the relative importance of each of these aspects with respect to inhibiting sector efficiency and productivity varies depending on the local context in the country. Irrespective the need for improvement in sector efficiency and productivity is paramount, since a majority of the poor from developing countries live in rural areas (World Bank 2007) with a significant proportion of them depending on agriculture for their livelihoods.
Resolving structural and institutional problems such as land fragmentation are difficult. These are contentious subjects steeped with political implications that inhibit action. Cognizant of this, various innovations in aggregation like contract farming models have allowed workarounds that can improve sector efficiency. Similarly market inefficiencies can potentially be reduced by increasing farmer access to appropriate information and knowledge. In keeping with this rational, a number of public and private entities have started providing various innovative services (mainly through the mobile) which provide needed information to farmers (Lokanathan and de Silva, 2010).
Amongst these services the most common information provided is market price information. However, is price information the most important piece of information that the farmers require? Ratnadiwakara, de Silva and Soysa (2008) identified six stages crop cultivation – deciding, seeding, preparing and planting, growing, harvesting and selling.
The paper examines the information requirements of the farmers throughout the crop cycle, in three countries (Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka), using the results of multi-country survey of farmers in these countries.
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