Analysis of the Roles of Information and Communications Technologies in Rural Women Farmers' Empowerment in Rivers State, Nigeria.

Author:Tijjani, A.R.
 
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Introduction

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is a wonderful tool which benefits all spectrums of people in the world and reach millions of people every day. It is the communally and economically marginalized, predominantly women in those countries, who do not bring in the benefit of it. Recent developments in the fields of information and communication technology are undeniably revolutionary in nature. Information has become the principal determinant of the progress of nations, communities and individual (Nagamani and Veni, 2016).

Information and communication have always mattered in agriculture. Ever since people have grown crops, raised livestock, and caught fish, they have sought information from one another. What is the most effective planting strategy on steep slopes? Where can I buy the improved seed or feed this year? How can I acquire a land title? Who is paying the highest price at the market? How can I participate in the government's credit program? (World Bank, 2011). Producers rarely find it easy to obtain answers to such questions, even if similar ones arise season after season. Farmers in a village may have planted the "same" crop for centuries, but over time, weather patterns and soil conditions change and epidemics of pests and diseases come and go. Updated information allows the farmers to cope with and even benefit from these changes. Providing such knowledge can be challenging, however, because the highly localized nature of agriculture means that information must be tailored specifically to distinct conditions.

Agriculture is the mainstay of most African economies and occupies a pivotal position in the development of the continent. Despite the importance of agriculture, improvements in this sector have been uneven and on the whole disappointing, with a current development growth rate of 1.7% (Diom 1996). This slow rate of development has been compounded in the recent past by recurrent crop failures, a high human population (expected to reach 300 million by 2000 (Diom 1996) economic recession, and escalating external debt. These factors--coupled with agricultural mismanagement, escalating costs of production, and difficulties with the structural-adjustment programs of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund--have led to food scarcity and insecurity. All this implies an urgent need to address the issues retarding agricultural production in Africa, especially in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This requires an understanding of how the farming systems work in practice.

In any farming system, it is important to recognize the various roles of men, women, youth, and children. In Africa, women constitute 70% of the agricultural workforce and produce 80% of the region's food (Gellen 1994; Blumberg, 1994). Their important contribution to local and national economies is not, however, reflected in the resources allocated to the peri-urban and rural female food producers. Female and male farmers in Africa face similar problems, but they affect the female farmer more adversely. The major problems include weak extension services; non adoption of technologies; low status (and therefore non involvement) in decision--and policy-making; varied and heavy workloads; poor access to credit; and lack of access to education, training, agricultural inputs, supportive policies, or information to improve farming.

Information is essential for facilitating agricultural and rural development and bringing about social and economic change. Unfortunately, most African countries have not devoted adequate attention to providing their citizens with access to information, especially in rural areas, where 70-80% of the African population lives (Youdeowei et al. 1996). Information initiatives should, therefore, be geared to strengthening the grass roots, with special emphasis on women, and be developed in places without public libraries or other information resources. This may be achieved by setting up functional, integrated information systems in rural and peri-urban communities, which would bring in new and diverse resources to enable women to access information.

Traditional and modern ICTs can be used concurrently to speed up the circulation of information. In many African countries, ICTs are used to greater and lesser degrees in drama, dance, folklore, group discussions, meetings, exhibitions, demonstrations, visits, farmers' field schools, agricultural shows, radio, television, video, and print. Solar, satellite, and fibre-optic technologies are now in use for computers, telephones, and facsimile. Telecentres have been established in villages, where appropriate, rural female farmers can tap these resources and access information using the new ICTs, such as e-mail, the World Wide Web, electronic networks, teleconferencing, and distance-learning tools. Information can empower rural female farmers to participate in decision-making, exchange ideas with others in developed and developing countries, and improve the quality of life of the people of Africa.

ICTs have changed education, training, service delivery, and people's lives in the more wealthy nations and in the research sectors of some developing nations, which pioneered the use of ICTs in less wealthy nations. In South Africa, Senegal, Uganda, and other countries, ICTs are in use in rural communities where they have created employment, helped to develop telecommunication and networking opportunities in rural areas, and acted as delivery vehicles for distance training and education. Sadly, the situation is different in Nigeria and the study area where most rural women farmers are poor, live in rural villages and with low education level. There is dearth of information on use of ICTs to empower these individuals and the benefits to users. The study therefore becomes necessary. The specific objectives are to: (a) describe the socioeconomic characteristics of the respondents; (b) identify ICT devices in use by respondents; (c) ascertain agricultural information needs of respondents; (d) describe ICT roles in empowering the respondents and (e) identify problems of ICT use respondents.

Methodology

This study was carried out in Rivers State of Nigeria. The state is bounded on the South by Atlantic Ocean, on the north by Imo state and Abia state, on the east by Akwa Ibom state and the west by Bayelsa and Delta state. Rivers State which is in the Niger Delta has topography of flat plains with a...

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