This paper aims at assessing the information needs of rice farmers in Tanzania using rice producers in Kilombero District as a case study. The study was carried out in four purposefully selected villages in Kilombero District, Morogoro Region. The study used a sample size of 80 respondents. The study employed a case study research design and used a combination of methods to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. Data were collected by using documentary review, questionnaires, focus group discussions and personal observations. Quantitative data were analysed by using SPSS, while qualitative data were analysed using content analysis. The results of the study revealed that rice farmers have a wide variety of information needs including information on marketing, weather condition, agricultural credit/loan, new seeds, storage method, planting methods, diseases and pest control, and pesticide availability and its application. Key sources of information used by farmers are their family or parents, personal experience, neighbors and agriculture extension officers.
The study findings also revealed that the barriers to accessing agricultural information in the study area are associated with lack of information services, inadequate number of extension agents, inadequate funds, lack of awareness of information sources and information not easily accessible. It is therefore recommended that there is a need for government and other institution responsible to lay more emphasis on sustainable practices on information accessibility to rice farmers and also to disseminate information to them and address their information needs properly.
Agriculture is the backbone of Africa's economy. According to ECA (2007), about 70% of Africans and roughly 80% of the continent's poor live in rural areas and depends on agriculture for their livelihood. The sector accounts for about 20 % of Africa's GDP, 60% of its labour force and 20% of all merchandise exports. Agriculture is the main source of income for 90% of rural populations in Africa. For example, in Tanzania, the agricultural sector provides 85% of exports, employs 85% of the workforce contributes, 75% of foreign exchange earnings and contributes about 25.8% to national GDP (URT, 2008).
Paddy/rice is the second most important commercial and food crop in Tanzania after maize. The crop is among the major sources of employment, income and food security for Tanzania farming households. Tanzania is the second largest producer of rice in Southern Africa after Madagascar with production level of 818,000 tones (JICA 2007). However, Tanzanian rice productivity is lower than most neighboring countries and one of the lowest in the world (European Union, 2010). About 71 % of the rice is grown in Tanzania is produced under rain fed conditions, irrigated land presents 29 % of the total with most of it in small village level traditional Irrigations. The average yield is very low, 1-1.5 t per ha.(RLDC 2009).
According to RLDC (2009) most of the rice farmers lack information on the improved seeds hence stick to traditionally preferred varieties which are not economically efficient but have prominent aromatic and palatability characteristics. Ozowa, (1995) stated that the vital role played by scientific and technical information for agricultural and industrial development in developing countries is still neglected and accorded a lower status compared to other sectors. In addition, most of the farmers including rice farmers in Africa lack access to modern processing technology and market information (Matovelo, 2008). Ferris (2005) argues that in most African countries lack of accurate and relevant agricultural information by small- scale farmers is a major factor constraining efforts to improve the agriculture sector.
Statement of the research problem
In agriculture, the role of information in enhancing agricultural development cannot be over emphasized. Bachhav (2012) stated that, the use of information in agriculture sector is enhancing farming productivity in a number of ways. Providing information on weather trends, best practice in farming, timely access to market information helps farmer make correct decisions about what crops to plants and where to sell their product and buy inputs. According to Richardson et al. (1998) the information needs of farmers change from time to time due to changing agricultural technologies, environmental changes, agricultural policies, and the emergence of agricultural innovations. Yet, there is in adequate information for rice farmers of Kilombero district, Tanzania. That is why Babu et al. (2011) had stated that a better understanding of farmers' agricultural information needs and information sources could help guide extension and other agricultural programs to better target specific groups of farmers. Therefore, this is the gap that this study seeks to fill.
OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY:
The major objectives of the study were:
* To find the information needs of the rice farmers.
* To find out the source of information used by the rice farmers
* To examine the challenges faced by rice farmers in meeting their information needs
* Recommend measures to improve delivery of information services to the farming communities for better rice productivity in the study area
Role of Information in Agriculture
Information has consistently been a significant element in the development of human society and has shaped over a long period of time the way in which we think and act (Meyer, 2005). Information is crucial for increasing agricultural production and improving marketing and distribution strategies (Oladele, 2006). Information also opens windows of giving out experiences, best practices, sources of financial aids and new markets. By the same token, information enables farmers to make informed decisions regarding production and marketing and managing their lives successfully to cope with everyday problems and to realize their opportunities (Matovelo, 2008; Idiegbeyan-ose Jerome and Theresa, 2009). As discussed by Aina et al (1995), information has a vital part to play in improving and sustaining agricultural production of any country or nation. Also, Ochieng (1999) asserts that access to information is a vital tool for empowering individuals to make informed decisions or take action for them or for community development.
Supporting the above views, Durutan (1999), had stated that agricultural producers already know that information is important and valuable and all they need is its timely accessibility in order to improve agricultural production. According to Camble (1994), and Sturges and Neill (1990), lack of adequate and relevant information has impacted negatively on any development process including agriculture. Ferris, (2005) adds that access to accurate, timely and appropriate information enables farmers to make better decisions about what to produce, when to produce and where to sell it than those who do not have such information. Similarly, Byamugisha et al., (2008) note that the possible benefits of using current agricultural information are improvement in farming techniques and knowledge of when to use manure or fertilizer, how to treat diseases and what crops to plant.
Sources of agricultural information for farmers
Information source is an institution or individual that creates or brings about a message (Statrasts, 2004). The characteristics of a good information source are timelessness, accuracy, relevance, cost effectiveness, trustworthiness, usability, exhaustiveness and aggregation level (Statrasts, 2004). The selection of an information source depends on a number of factors; including level of income, farm size, age, geographical location, level of education (Riesenberg, and Gor 1999). Using the Indian NSSO 2003 survey, Adhiguru et al (2009) found that small and marginal farmers accessed less information and from fewer sources than medium and large Scale farmers. Ogboma (2010), Buba (2003), Meitei and Devi (2009), and Mtega and Benard (2013), mentions some information sources used by farmers in accessing their agricultural information including; newspapers, journals, bulletins, community leaders, and famer groups. Another study by Daudu et al. (2009) reported farmers to use agricultural extensions, posters, Televisions, and Radio as their source of their information.
Furthermore, a study by (FAO, 1997) revealed that fellow farmers, neighbors and farmers' cooperative society used as preference sources of information used by farmers in accessing agricultural information. Ogboma (2010) noted the sources of information used by rice farmers were personal experience, workshops and Seminars, training, friends and neighbors, Ministry of agriculture, magazines of agriculture, extension officers, local Government officers, non Government organization, libraries of agriculture and posters. The study by Daudu et al 2013 in Nigeria further showed that the main sources of information used by farmers in accessing agricultural information were Extension agents, Friends, Radio and Libraries. Similary, Bozi and Ozcatalbas (2010) revealed that family members, neighbor farmer, extension services, input providers and mass media were key sources of information for Turkish farmers.
Therefore, in view of the fact that each farmer prefers certain information sources or channels over others, it is important to do a thorough study before opting for an information source or channel to address their information needs.
Information needs of rice farmers
Devadson and Lingam (1996) had stated that, information needs represent gaps in the current knowledge of the user. In day to day work; lack of self sufficiency constitutes an information need. Information needs are thus a factor that may...