Analysis of Digital Agriculture Extension and Advisory Services in Niger: Conclusions and Recommendations

The Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) project and the Sustainable Opportunities for Increasing Livelihoods with Soils (SOILS) Consortium undertook a study to analyze the digital agricultural extension and advisory services (EAS) in Niger. The study provides data, insights, and recommendations on digital EAS platforms and services to support the SOILS Consortium in the development of a technology park in Niger. The technology park will function as an agricultural information and training center to accelerate dissemination and scaling efforts and provide training to farmers and other agricultural value chain actors. 

The analysis of the digital agricultural EAS in Niger uses the framework developed by Heike Baumüller and Benjamin K. Addom, which uses four pillars to explain digitalization for agriculture: (1) digital agricultural innovations, (2) big data and analytics, (3) business development services, and (4) the enabling environment. 

The study concludes: 

  1. The limited ability of extension agents to reach farmers, compounded by the restrictions on mass gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the limited coordination and collaboration among EAS providers, have reduced the potential benefits of traditional EAS in Niger. 
  2. Digital EAS could be a game changer for smallholder farmers and other actors to access quality EAS from the comfort of their homes or workplaces. 
  3. Niger has a limited but gradually advancing enabling environment and agricultural data infrastructure to support digital agriculture. There are quality digital platforms which are accessible and effective in providing or supporting quality EAS that largely meet the needs of farmers and other actors across the country. 
  4. Digital agricultural extension activities appear to be driven by donors and international development partners which do not guarantee the sustainability of the digital EAS platforms. 

The study recommends: 

  1. There should be active coordination of EAS providers to avoid duplication, enhance synergy and complementarity necessary to serve the diversified needs of farmers. 
  2. There should be continuous capacity building to facilitators and moderators, as well as farmers, due to the low digital literacy in Niger. 
  3. Development of a national farmer digital identity database should be a priority of the state and relevant private actors, using the databases of the National Network of Chambers of Agriculture (RECA), peasant organizations, and other organizations as a starting point. 
  4. The National Agricultural Advisory System (SNCA) should take a lead in exploring sustainable and innovative financing mechanisms for agricultural extension that minimize the dependence on donor funding. 

Read and/or download the full study here

Fighting Desert Locust Together: Innovations and Solutions to Combat an Agrarian & Food Crisis

On February 3, 2021, Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) and hosted a webinar focusing on innovations and last-mile solutions to dealing with the desert locust crisis. We hosted this webinar because if it was not for COVID-19, the desert locust crisis would be the most significant challenge facing Africa this decade. The desert locust forms into swarms which are highly destructive: they can travel up to 150 km per day, damaging crops and fodder along the way and exacerbating food insecurity in parts of Africa. In 2020, swarms reached sizes as large as 1.5 times the size of New York City!

In the last few years, innovative technologies and last-mile solutions have emerged that could help prevent future desert locust attacks and support better monitoring of locust swarms and warning systems to support farmers. Georgina Campbell Flatter, Executive Director of, provided opening remarks highlighting the importance of aid to support farmers and pastoralists following locust attacks in early 2020, as well as the impressive progress and momentum in early warning and early action innovations like hyperlocal weather data, use of digital tools, and others.

Next, Marc Gilkey, Senior Agriculture Development Advisor at USAID Bureau of Resilience and Food Security, described the biology of the desert locust, how the swarms form, and swarm behavior as a cohesive entity. He emphasized the need for ongoing desert locust surveillance and control, as well as the use of technology, including locust reporting applications. Then, Boniface Akuku, Director of Information and Communication Technology of the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), provided the perspective of the Government of Kenya. He emphasized the need to move from reactive to proactive approaches, including the use of digital platforms to share diverse data to predict and mitigate future desert locust attacks.

Following Ms. Akuku’s remarks, a panel discussed technology innovations for locust response. Yaev Motro, PhD, a locust expert, and Tomer Regev, CEO and Co-Founder of Alta Innovation, discussed the use of precision drone technology to identify desert locust locations and spray only those areas affected by locusts, while also minimizing the use of pesticides. They also talked about a recent trip to Ethiopia to share these technologies and coach Ethiopian locust warriors on how to use drone technology, sprayers, and use protective equipment. Dan Slagan and Rei Goffer from ClimaCell Inc. discussed the use of hyper-local weather data, integration of data sources, and specialized models to add precision to identifying when it is best to spray locust swarms. ClimaCell’s platform provides timely recommendations on when it would be the right day to spray based on numerous factors and conditions, as well as alerts via SMS or WhatsApp.

A second panel honed in on the last miles solutions to reach farmers. Emmah Mwangi, Agriculture Climate Research Manager for the Kenya Red Cross, recommended localized and context-specific data to strengthen early warning early action systems, as well as collaboration between diverse stakeholders and ongoing pilots to inform system development. Henry Kinyua, Head of East Africa, for Digital Green, talked about the use of customized videos as a way to reach farmers with information. He discussed the use of videos in the local language to disseminate information to fight the mango fruit fly in Kenya and how these videos can be delivered via multiple channels, including the trusted KALRO application. Ritika Sood, Senior Partner Relations Manager for Arifu, talked about their digital advisory platform, providing farmers with relevant agricultural information at no cost to farmers. She emphasized the need to work in partnership to get the subject matter content and customization needed to appropriately reach farmers.

Mr. Gilkey provided closing remarks, noting the importance of moving from analog to digital technologies and working in pluralistic partnerships to mitigate the multiple needs that emerge from the desert locust crisis. The webinar recording is accessible here.

Extension and Advisory Services Role in the COVID-19 Crisis

This post is written by Kevin Chen, Mark Leclair, Esmail Karamidehkordi, Carl Larsen, and Suresh Babu for DLEC and published first on Agrilinks.

There is increasing concern that the COVID-19 pandemic will have dire consequences for food security unless adequate safeguards are established. Food supply chains must continue to function; the health of food system workers must be protected, and measures to ease the economic blow from lost incomes must be taken. Information, advice, and coaching for rural — as trusted rural communication and education institutions — are a critical piece of emergency response to such a crisis, providing credible information about the virus and farming advice to adapt to various shocks.

In this post, we gather lessons from past emergencies and show how Extension & Advisory Services (EAS) have adapted their education and communication for COVID-19 among regular and continued outreach. We also make recommendations for EAS for future emergencies.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time EAS have been called to action in an unfolding disaster. As an institution with trained technical staff who are trusted by communities, and with local reach and communication skills, extension has supported efforts and educated communities during crises such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola, avian influenza, natural disasters, and pest infestations.

Past experience

The 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa caused 11,325 deaths in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and had widespread economic and social consequences. UNICEF’s communication for development (C4D) work during the Ebola crisis identified working with local journalists and community radio — part of the broader EAS community — as the most effective and flexible way to share information, allowing real-time rapid feedback from communities. In Sierra Leone, extension agents received social communication training to encourage preventive and behavior change messages through community sensitization meetings and radio discussions. Liberia developed stronger health protocols that could now help manage COVID-19.

Lesson: Capacity strengthening and the right tools and channels are necessary to provide tailored EAS messages.

Extension was instrumental in controlling another viral disease that jumped from animals to humans in Asia — avian flu. In Vietnam during the 2005-2007 outbreak, extension officers helped detect positive cases, coordinated the establishment of quarantine zones in collaboration with local authorities, and supervised the culling and destruction of infected flocks and the disinfection of affected farms. They then helped reestablish post-disaster production. Their swift and effective action helped minimize loss of human life in Vietnam caused by the H5N1 virus.

Lesson: EAS must support local producers throughout the process and along all areas of the value chains; this means they need a broad set of capacities.

Present response

In the days after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, EAS responded quickly to provide COVID-19 information to rural communities and to adapt their regular outreach to the “new normal” of social distancing and noncontact communication.

In the pre-COVID-19 world, radio was already a trusted source of information for rural residents. Radio reaches over 70 percent of the world’s population and is used by EAS to reach rural people with information and advice. Evidence shows that listening to radio increases knowledge and leads to adoption of new technologies and practices. Research by BBC Media Action showed that radio consistently occupies an important informational and community-building function in disasters. Similarly, a meta-analysis by Hugelius and colleagues showed how humanitarian radio plays a major role in fostering community resilience and recovery.

Now, as many people shelter in their homes and/or try to limit contact with other people, the radio work of journalists and extension agents has become a crucial means of health and safety communication. Farm Radio International is currently working with over 1,000 radio broadcasters in Africa to ensure that myths and misinformation about COVID-19 are challenged over the airwaves, bringing critical information to listeners who may lack other credible sources.

A couple of EAS country responses to the COVID-19 crisis show how extension staff are working to spread information about the virus while continuing to share vital agricultural knowledge.

In China, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) established an EAS big data platform linked to the National Cloud Platform for Grass-Root Agricultural Technology Extension (NAECP) to mitigate the pandemic’s economic impacts, especially during spring planting season, in three ways:

  1. Providing training and technical support for spring ploughing, ensuring that agricultural production is on time. For example, Jiangxi Province utilizes online extension platforms for technical guidance and online expert consultation to help farmers under quarantine. Before February 15, over 2,100 technicians and 100 experts provided online services, answering 27,000 questions.
  1. Promoting delivery of online market information to guide farmers on crop selection to maximize economic benefits. For example, an expert team in Yongqing, Hebei evaluated vegetable growth periods, time to market, and projected supply and demand, identifying lettuce and sprout as priority crops this season.
  1. Contributing to pest monitoring and prevention. Agricultural experts predicted the fall armyworm would cause more severe damage this spring season. The National Agro-Tech Extension and Service Center published timely forecasts and early warning and prevention and control measures.

Extension officers’ smartphones allow ubiquitous connection to the NAECP for knowledge sharing, management, performance appraisal, and data collection. This system requires minimal face-to-face contact between the extension and farmers, a key advantage during the outbreak.

The platform is now targeting farmers, agriculture enterprises, destitute households, and low-income families for further effectiveness during COVID-19. Local platforms such as one in Shanghai has a “fighting COVID-19” module, providing health advice for farmers.

Iran — which has been especially hard-hit in the pandemic — reported the first case of COVID-19 on February 19 and declared an emergency. The Ministry of Health and Medical Education led the outbreak’s control. A public awareness approach — including engaging EAS — through mass and electronic media (radio, TV, social media, text messages) informed the public about the virus and its prevention. The Agricultural Education and Extension Institute at the Agricultural Research, Education and Extension Organization of the Ministry of Agriculture-Jahad established a national working group on March 10 to use EAS to prevent COVID-19 in agricultural, rural, and nomadic communities. They produced materials, apps,  electronic pamphlets, videos, and text messages for training and information on the outbreak.

Initial feedback from local extension staff shows that these communications reached over 7,500 extension agents, local leaders, and community-based organizations. According to Agricultural Extension Administrations, most farmers received information from mass and social media and village posters and public boards. Radio and TV programs are broadcasted several times a week to cover all communities. Extension agents use social distancing measures, postponing regular face-to-face contact, and mass media and electronic devices.

Future lessons

As shown above and elsewhere, quick action from governments coupled with credible, regular information is critical in dealing with emergencies such as COVID-19. As a critical actor in providing such information to rural areas, EAS can do several things globally to help mitigate the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. FAO gives some guidance on this, including raising awareness about COVID-19, advising local producers in dealing with value chain disruptions, and facilitating gender-sensitive social support.

EAS can offer support during uncertainty and sudden changes that come with the pandemic, and strategies to bounce back from shocks and enhance resilience. Some markets, such as fruits or vegetables, may disappear when flights are reduced or food export bans are enacted. Extension agents can help farmers to come up with “Plan B” (or even “C” and “D”)––as was the case in Kenya, where horticulture farmers switched to varieties in demand from local rather than international markets.

What happens after the COVID-19 crisis passes? Given the likelihood of future disease outbreaks, we must build more robust and effective extension programs that continue to function seamlessly in a crisis––helping with disease management efforts while continuing to support agricultural operations and averting food insecurity.