The health crisis linked to the coronavirus has turned the world upside down. No sector of activity was spared like agriculture, and more specifically AEAS activities. That’s why FCA Madagascar (1), Forum du Conseil Agricole Madagascar or Agricultural Council Forum Madagascar, conducted a small survey among its members in order to identify possible solutions and challenges faced by AEAS workers in the context of coronavirus. We received a total of 8 responses from 4 regions of Madagascar.
What new challenges are AEAS workers facing during the health crisis?
First of all, we shoud know that AEAS is particularly difficult in the Malagasy context even before the pandemic. Indeed, access in rural areas is complicated for AEAS workers due to distance and poor road conditions. The lack of human resources also limits the effectiveness of AEAS. The number of AEAS workers can’t cover the number of beneficiary peasants in rural areas according to our survey participants. Yet, the coronavirus health crisis has accentuated these problems. Health measures have effectively limited travel and meeting opportunities. However, despite the coronavirus effects, the majority of interviewed participants are relucant to move to rural areas due to work and responsabilities. But urban areas also facilitate access to their needs (hospital, market, energy, internet,…). So, we aren’t yet ready to see a rapprochement between AEAS workers and farmers any time soon.
The digitalization of agricultural extension, a relevant solution to cope with the coronavirus pandemic?
One of the solutions proposed by our panel of participants is the digitalization of AEAS. Indeed, to reduce the problem of accessibility in rural areas, the use of NICTs is a promising solution. The use of traditional media (TV, radio, posters, etc.) and “New media” (Facebook, Zoom, e-learning, spot, etc.) can be the AEAS of tomorrow in Madagascar. In addition, digital technologies are increasingly integrated into Malagasy society. According to ARTEC (Communication Technologies Regulatory Authority), the penetration rate of mobile services throughout Madagascar rose from 5.79% in 2006 to 40.98% in 2017. As for the Internet penetration rate, it has increased from 0.06% to 9.52% over the same period. In addition, mobile internet has increased dramatically, reaching 2,315,785 subscribers in 2017. This is 24 times more than in 2012 (ARTEC). It is undeniable that digital technologies have more and more place in Malagasy society. And this could be a boon for AEAS.
Nevertheless, we have to admit that digital technologies are still far from being adopted by Malagasy peasants. Indeed, contrary to large cities, digital accessibility is less in rural areas. The network, the price, and the capacity of use mean that digital technologies are not integrated in rural areas. Training farmers in the use of digital technologies and improving digital infrastructure in rural areas are long-term solutions to this challenge. But in the immediate term, the solution favored by our panel is the training of local facilitators and the establishment of an information center per Commune or Fokontany. And for you, are digital technologies the future of AEAS in Africa?