World Libraries, Vol. 2, No. 1, Fall 1991
INFORMATION FOR SUCCESSFUL AGRICULTURE
Abstract: Describes the importance of agriculture in Africa, and outlines the information needs of farmers. Those needs are transmitted to research scientists by agricultural extension workers. The findings of research are transmitted through research libraries to public libraries, and thence to the agricultural extension workers. For the findings of research to reach the farmers who require the information, it is necessary for the number of extension workers to be increased – but this is no a feasible approach because of the cost involved. Another approach is suggested, which gives responsibility to local public libraries for dissemination of research information. The information would flow from research libraries to the public libraries, then from public libraries to designated gatekeeper farmers. Although most farmers are illiterate, a number of literate gatekeepers can be identified and encouraged to carry necessary information to the less educated workers.
IntroductionAfrica is primarily an agriculture-dependent continent, with 64.3% of its population of 231,411,000 engaged in farming . In spite of this large labour force, there is a food deficit in Africa. Many countries in Africa have to import food items from countries with negligible agricultural labour forces, such as the United Kingdom (2.2%), the United States of America (2.7%), Canada (4.0%), and Australia (5.7%). The successes of these countries with large surpluses of food, have, however, been linked to the technological innovations which have greatly helped in boosting agricultural production. Countries in Africa have recognised the potency of technological innovations in bringing increased agricultural production. Hence the establishment of several agricultural research institutions, since it is believed that technological innovations are the outcome of research. The main objective of these research institutions is to ensure an increase in agricultural production. Unfortunately, recent Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports have revealed that 24 countries in Africa are facing acute food crises. This type of situation also exists in Southeast Asia . A prominent factor identified as being responsible for this unacceptable situation is the unavailability of timely and appropriate information to users of agricultural information, i.e., research scientists, policy makers, planners, extension personnel, and farmers.
In recent times, attention has been focused on the provision of agricultural information to all the agricultural information user populations. That is, it should not be exclusive to research scientists, as is the case in most agricultural libraries in Africa. The provision of agricultural information to extension officers and farmers by agricultural libraries is neglected, and this also hinders increased agricultural production in Africa. Some studies have, however, revealed that extension officers and farmers need information just as much as research scientists and policy makers [3,4,5]. The present study aims to identify areas of information needs of extension officers and farmers and how the education and training of librarians and information specialists can be adapted to supply information that will meet these needs.
Information Needs of Agricultural Extension Officers
Agricultural extension officers occupy a strategic position
in the agricultural production cycle. They liaise between
the farmers and research scientists on the one hand, and between
farmers and policy makers on the other hand. A constant supply
of timely and appropriate information to this group of agricultural
information users will enhance the quality of information
they provide to farmers, researchers, and policy makers. Providing
information only to research scientists without making it
available to agricultural extension officers will negate desirable
integration. In Africa, the ratio of agricultural extension
officers to farmers is far too small. Therefore, an adequate
supply of information will lighten the burden of extension
officers. The Table below shows the ratio of agricultural
extension officers to farmers in the Southern African Region
in the 1984-1985 season.
The average ratio of extension officers to farmers in Southern Africa is 1:1900 (The situation is no better in other parts of the continent. As of 1974, the ratio in Nigeria was 1:20,000 ). Obviously many farmers do not come in contact with extension officers for many years, and many farming problems may never be brought to the attention of those officers. However, if public libraries in the various rural districts or local government agencies were able to document these problems and make them known to agricultural libraries, then extension officers could become aware of them and make them known to research scientists.
A study conducted in 1986  with 73 agricultural extension officers in Nigeria revealed that extension officers required a variety of agricultural information as listed in Table 2.
It appears from the table that extension officers would need information in many areas, which could be supplied by agricultural libraries. In the same study, it was also found that extension officers rarely used the libraries as a source of agricultural information, rather, they depended mainly on their supervisors and colleagues, and to a lesser extent, on salesmen from agro-based industries. From the table, it is obvious that agricultural libraries are in a position to supply information that would meet some of their needs, by making available to them annual reports, manuals, handbooks, brochures/catalogues of agro-based industries, newsletters, directories of agricultural commercial firms/research institutions, consultancy reports, etc.
The majority of farmers in Africa are illiterate, yet it is possible for agricultural libraries to supply necessary information to farmers. It has been suggested by Lawani  that one can identify somebody who is literate in the farming community and make the person the information gatekeeper. Other farmers will receive information from the gatekeeper on a regular basis. In a related study of six farming communities, it was found that farmers needed information mainly in the areas of fertilizers, pests and disease control, planting materials, and credits and loans . What is apparent from this study, when it is compared with Table 2, is that farmers and extension officers have greatly similar perceived information needs. It is also clear that an agricultural library is in a position to supply that information to both user groups. In the case of the farmer, information may flow from an agricultural library to a public library, thence to a gatekeeper and finally to the individual farmer.
In order for agricultural librarians to function effectively
in the provision of information to the user populations, agricultural
information personnel need to possess skills in agricultural
information handling. Several agricultural information experts
have expressed concern over the lack of qualified agricultural
information personnel in the developing countries. The consensus
of experts is that information training institutions in the
developing countries should organise formal training programs
for agricultural information personnel. Such courses could
lead to the awarding of recognised diplomas and degrees in
agricultural information. Ideally, such training should be
geared towards graduates in agriculturally related disciplines.
However, in the developing countries it would be difficult
to attract enough agricultural graduates to such programs.
An alternative plan would be to enroll persons without specialised
background in agriculture, and to ensure that such courses
have a substantial agricultural discipline content. Since
agricultural information personnel will also be needed at
the intermediate level, diploma and certificate holders in
agriculture who already serve as extension officers will be
able to combine effectively their training in an agricultural
extension setting with information handling capability after
undergoing training in agricultural information at the intermediate
level. Fortunately, there are 17 library and information training
institutions in English-speaking Africa, many of them with
undergraduate and postgraduate programs. Seven of these schools
are located in Nigeria, two in Kenya and one each in Botswana,
Ethiopia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and
Zimbabwe. Some schools have courses in agricultural information,
but they are usually elective courses. It is hoped that a
formal training program in agricultural information will include
basic agriculture, rural sociology, communications, agricultural
information sources and systems, information retrieval systems,
information technology and management components.
The University of Botswana is working in this direction. The Department of Library and Information Studies is in the process of carrying out a market survey in the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) Region, with a view to identifying the specific training needs of the various categories of agricultural information personnel in the region. It is hoped that the department will be able to fashion a training program that will lead to the Certificate in Agricultural Information Studies and the Postgraduate Diploma. Students will take the program on a part-time basis, under the aegis of the General Programme for the Training of Agricultural Information (PROGEFIA), and Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA).
The provision of agricultural information to relevant users is very strategic in the overall increase of food production in Africa. If agricultural information personnel are well trained, they will be in a position to meet the information needs of research scientists, policy makers, planners, extension officers, students, and farmers by packaging appropriate information. The flow of such information is dependent upon interactions among special agricultural libraries, local public libraries, and selected gatekeepers in the farmer population.
1 United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization, Production Yearbook, 1988 (Rome: FAO, 1989).
2 Leonor B. Gregorio and Josephine C. Sison, "Agricultural Information Provision in Developing Countries," Quarterly Bulletin of the International Association of Agricultural Librarians and Documentalists 34-1 (1989): 7-12.
3 Hamish M. Russell, "Agricultural User Populations and Their Information Needs in the Industrialized World," Quarterly Bulletin of the International Association of Agricultural Librarians and Documentalists 28-2 (1983): 40-52.
4 L. O. Aina, "Information Needs and Information Seeking Involvement of Farmers in Six Rural Communities in Nigeria," Quarterly Bulletin of the International Association of Agricultural Librarians and Documentalists 30-2 (1985): 35-40.
5 C. R. Namponya, "Agricultural Libraries in East and Central Africa," in Aspects of African Librarianship: A Collection of Writings, ed. Michael Wise (London: Mansell, 1985), pp. 154-165.
6 S. K. T. Williams, Rural Poverty to Rural Prosperity; A Strategy for Development in Nigeria, a lecture delivered at the University of Ife, 8 May 1973 (Ife: Ife University Press, 1973).
7 L. O. Aina, "An Empirical Analysis of the Information Component of Agricultural Extension Services in the Ibadan Area," Ph.D. dissertation, Ibadan University, 1986.
8 S. M. Lawani, "Agricultural Documentation and Transfer of Scientific Information to Rural Communities," in Education and Training for Library and Information Services in a Predominantly Non-Literate Society with Particular Reference to Agricultural and Rural Development, ed. B. O. Aboyade (The Hague: FID, 1981), pp. 13-21.
9 Aina, "Information Needs," op. cit.
About the Author
L.O. Aina is Senior Lecturer, Department of Library and Information Studies, University of Botswana. Dr. Aina was previously on the faculty at the University of Ibadan. He is Editor-in-Chief of the African Journal of Library, Archives, and Information Science, and Associate Editor of the Nigerian Agricultural Information Journal. He has published numerous articles in the areas of his professional interests: agricultural information, information retrieval, and library education.
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