Cameroon: Internet and other ICTs are valuable tools for farmers (Global Press Journal)

| September 30, 2013

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Pauline Agweig is pursuing farming in a unique way. The 28-year-old is a poultry farmer in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest region. She has always had a passion for agriculture.

But unlike other young farmers, she trained as a journalist and still works for a local magazine. Ms. Agweig had no formal training before she started her poultry farm. Instead, she relies on the Internet to find the information she needs to sustain her farm.

She says, “Before venturing into [farming], I got all the information I needed … and I constantly update my knowledge by learning online.”

She saved 200,000 Central African francs ($410 US) and started her own farm. With a confident smile, Ms. Agweig says, “Thus far, my farm is doing great. And other farmers even come to me for advice.”

According to the government of Cameroon, more than 60 per cent of the working population is involved with agriculture, which accounts for more than 40 per cent of the country’s economic output. A growing number of farmers in Cameroon are using Information and Communication Technologies, or ICTs, to revolutionize their work.

ICTs can help farmers improve their businesses in many ways. Tantoh Nforba is a 33-year-old farmer in Nkambé, a small city in the Northwest region, who benefits from ICTs. He uses his mobile phone to exchange information with farmers, extension workers, and customers. He participates in talk shows on radio and TV in order to advertise his produce and services.

Mr. Nforba says that ICTs can also reduce the loneliness associated with farming; farmers who work in the countryside can use ICTs to connect with friends in town, and even in other countries.

Fon Julius Niba is a technical adviser on agricultural value chains in Bamenda. He works for SNV, a Dutch NGO. SNV ran a three-year project to train local journalists how to report on and distribute information about non-timber forest products on the radio.

Mr. Niba says, “In Cameroon, radio is still the cheapest and most efficient tool for spreading messages about a broad range of issues, like farming, social equality or daily life.”

Although the project is now over, Mr. Niba says local journalists continue to broadcast programs to inform and engage farmers. According to Mr. Niba, more needs to be done to increase farmers’ access to ICTs.

Illiteracy is still widespread in rural Cameroon, and many people do not know how to use computers and other ICTs. With the country’s reliance on satellite connections, ICT use is often limited by high costs.

To address these challenges, some local governments have set up centres with computers and other technologies. At the centres, villagers can learn ICT skills and access the Internet for about 400 francs (82 US cents) per hour.

ICTs cannot solve all of the challenges that farmers face. But, says Mr. Niba, ICTs can be used as tools to improve farm businesses. He says: “ICTs remain key in linking smallholder farmers to market … enabling them to increase income from the sale of their produce, and get information about innovations …”