AS the impacts of climate change continue to accelerate, it is not always gloom for stakeholders, hence the need to explore the opportunities that come with climate change.
GUEST COLUMN: PETER MAKWANYA
The digital revolution will not only transform the communication landscape, but will also empower local farmers to overcome information gaps and communication boundaries in a highly mechanised and globalised society.
The technological boom has taken everyone by storm and farmers are not left out as they seek to orient themselves with this new phenomenon. As this euphoria grips the world, farmers need not miss the value of using these gadgets.
The versatile nature of the digital communication tools can allow them to be abused because of excitement leading to the farmers concentrating more on the trivial rather than the fundamental side of modernising farming, bringing positive results, realising resilience and achieving food security.
The digital communication technologies which include the internet, tablets, mobile phones, IPads, laptops and other technologies of similar nature can facilitate the movement, storage and sharing of critical data for reference purposes.
These interactive platforms can be used to bring farmers closer to each other and establish a highly collaborative and networked community.
Farmers need to transform their mindsets and adapt to the new ways of exploring the farming landscapes using a broad network of new media technologies.
These include online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Newsfeed, WhatsApp, e-famer, YourFarm, YouTube. These social media networks are favourable to the farming cause. These digital tools and networks are there to educate farmers. How ready are farming communities to be digital compliant is another challenge.
Good as this may sound, there are also associated challenges that can militate against the ease of doing farming. Farmers in remote areas can experience connectivity challenges, including access to data and they may be cut off from farming groups and markets.
Being in possession of a mobile phone is one issue while its ability to provide required services may be another issue.
Farmers need to keep in touch with groups and communities, including mechanisation companies to be abreast with the fast changes taking place in the farming world.
These include new methods of farming, improved seed varieties, fertilisers, crop varieties, adaptable dairy breeds, hybrid small livestock, cheaper and accessible irrigation materials, including energy-saving and environmentally friendly equipment.
Farmers also need to be informed and guard against unscrupulous and corrupt middle-persons, aiming to rip them off.
The other issue is the nature and type of a mobile phone that one possesses, some mobile phones are for calling and receiving calls, and are not internet compliant.
In this regard, such poor farmers would have challenges in staying up-to-date and keep in touch with other stakeholders.
Furthermore, their remoteness and peripheral nature may not enable them to keep up-to-date with weather and climate phenomena which require their attention and preparedness.
Not all farmers will benefit from agricultural and climate research which is designed to improve their knowledge of farming and make decisions based on improved information dissemination.
When connectivity and networking is available, issues of distance will not matter, but when there is no networking, then there could be limited information dissemination, including research innovations.
Above all, even when the information may be available, gaps may emanate from information currency and lack of ownership.
Indeed, yes, farmers may fail to relate and associate the information disseminated with their local experiences, traditional knowledge and networks.
The other concern is literacy levels to enable them to put the acquired information into practice in order to shape their livelihoods.
Furthermore, information sources, institutions and holders may also not disseminate information according to farmers’ needs and expectations. In this regard, entrenched institutional biases may become synonymous with the information providers or even the types of digital tools to be used.
Issues of ICT tools compliance may also come into play with regards to the Microsoft and Windows types they are using, some may be up-to-date while the rest may not be up-to-date at all, thereby disadvantaging unsuspecting farmers.
Furthermore, information providers may not have the opportunity to train farmers on how farming transformation should be used and applied. Even when the information is available, the majority of farmers may lack guidance and training.
Although these digital tools are advantageous to farmers as they can easily communicate with other stakeholders and collaborate farming activities, the uptake and results are not encouraging.
Even when farmers realise economic and environmental benefits, it is not quite certain if they will link these to digital transformation as many are heard praising the Lord for the harvests, although that is not bad, before they praise the Lord, they need to appreciate the path to transformation of agricultural production.
In other situations, the information on the internet needs to be streamlined to suit new requirements to inform new methodologies and that may retard economic or climate growth.
In this regard, it is futile for information providers to shout about the effectiveness of harnessing digital technologies for sustainable development without conscientising communities and stakeholders on the challenges associated with the new-found means of communicating agricultural production information.