AudienceScapes Field Blog
KEY COMMUNICATION AND DEVELOPMENT WEBSITES AND PROJECTS
Ghana Staying Informed about Agricultural Issues
Information Sources for Agriculture
For the respondents from the AudienceScapes 2009 Ghana survey who self-identified as crop farmers and/or livestock farmers (referred to collectively here as “farmers”), extension agents and friends and family stand out as key sources of practical and technical information about farming, while radio clearly led the pack on the media source side.  NGOs barely registered, while even fewer respondents said they got agricultural information via newer technologies such as cell phone SMS services or the internet (Charts 1-3).
Most striking in the data is that, while information about “practical “ farming issues appears to be readily available to most farmers, a great many said they are not getting any information about important “business” issues, such as market prices, crop subsidies and land property rights (Chart 4).
As Chart 5 shows, survey respondents also expressed higher levels of dissatisfaction with information they are getting about the commercial and legal aspects of agriculture (markets, financing, and legal issues. This points to a key information gap ready to be filled, to be discussed further below.
Trustworthiness of Sources
The role of extension agents took on a nuanced character in the survey: although these agents were cited as information sources by many farmers, the information they provide was not rated as any more trustworthy than the information available from other prominent sources (Table 1).
Supplying Business Information to Farmers: Are Mobile Phones the Answer?
In an attempt to minimize the inherent uncertainties of farming as a commercial venture and a source of livelihood, the development community has focused a great deal on expanding small farmers’ access to credit and insurance instruments—to reduce their vulnerability to income shocks—and on improving farmers’ access to and information about markets for their goods. Some development organizations are enthusiastic about the use of mobile phones for the latter in particular, which enables farmers to find better prices for their crops, limit spoilage and thus raise incomes. For example, Esoko Ghana has developed a commodity index to track the prices of selected farm products across the country. Details are sent to farmers across Ghana by SMS, thus providing the farmers with enhanced market transparency and stronger negotiating power. Esoko also provides weather updates, education on better farming practices and prices for farming inputs. 
While such mobile methods are yielding very encouraging results, the AudienceScapes survey suggest that, at least for now, the impact of mobile phones on agricultural practices in Ghana is minimal: even though 68 percent of crop farmers said they had used a mobile phone for some purpose in the last week, only four respondents said they had gotten information about any of the agricultural topics in the survey from SMS, and only one had learned about markets or prices in this way.
If the impact of new technologies remains limited, it begs the question of how development organizations can best supply farmers with the means to gain knowledge about the business side of agriculture and work together to improve productivity and profitability. The survey results point to radio as an enduring and effective information conduit.
Radio was cited by respondents more frequently than most other media as a source of information about business issues for farming. However, less than half of farmers said they had gotten information about markets, prices, legal issues, or financing from radio. This suggests that programming aimed at giving farmers up-to-date market information, public service announcements about available subsidies and farm credits, and call-in shows about legal issues could all help fill this gap.
These results point to three recommendations for development organizations working on agricultural issues:
- Improving communication about business issues (markets, financing, and legal) should be a top priority; these are the areas where Ghanaian farmers say they most lack information. While development agencies might see a need for better practical information (for example, about fertilizer or new seed varieties), and there indeed may be a concrete need for practical tips, farmers themselves expressed more dissatisfaction with the information available to them about getting loans, government payments, or the best price for their goods.
- Rather than establishing separate networks for disseminating such information, development organizations may want to partner with existing extension services to take advantage of their (evidently) broad reach. This reach, plus the fact that extension agents’ work typically focuses on practical information, may actually explain farmers’ higher levels of satisfaction with practical farming information. It may be both effective and efficient to tap into extension agents’ existing networks, and even bolster them by providing resources for training and equipping extension agents to deal with commercial and legal issues.
- On the other hand, development agencies with an interest in bolstering civil society organizations may wish to focus instead on increasing the reach of NGOs, which were not cited by more than a handful of farmers or livestock owners in the AudienceScapes survey as sources of agricultural information. This may be because NGOs lack technical capacity in agriculture, lack the resources to reach farmers as frequently as extension agents, or are less heavily involved in agriculture than other sectors.
Click Below to Access a Different Development Topic
 Thirty eight percent of all respondents said that agriculture contributed substantially to their household income in the year prior to the survey ( 26 percent said they only farmed, two percent said they only owned livestock, while 10 percent said they did both).
 Details from Mark Davies, CEO of Esoko Ghana, as cited in: "Ghana’s Competitive Mobile Market Spurs Multiple Apps" by Jeremiah Sam and Kwami Ahiabenu II