Towards reducing sugarcane productivity gap between largescale and smallholder farmers: Influence of ICT among sugarcane growers in Swaziland.
Dlamini, Mbuyazwe Michael.
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This study evaluates the role of agricultural extension relative to improving information access among smallholder farmers and extension officers with an overall aim of increasing smallholder sugarcane productivity in Swaziland. The country is currently experiencing a decrease in the productivity of smallholder sugarcane growers yet they form a substantial portion of the overall sugar production statistics. The research process adopted for this investigation involved a theoretical process on one hand, and an empirical process on the other. Both processes followed a systematic investigation pattern. The influence of agricultural extension towards improving sugarcane production and the influence of ICT on knowledge and information management among sugarcane farmers were first interrogated separately. The theoretical approach went on to discuss how well agricultural extension can use ICT to facilitate knowledge and information access among smallholder sugarcane farmers to help them improve their productivity. Drawing from relevant published works, this study was able to establish that agricultural extension, through the use of ICT, is particularly well positioned to assist smallholder farmers with access to sugarcane production information hence improve their productivity. The empirical process involved data collection through structured interviews with respondents, comprising smallholder sugarcane farmers and extension officers within the sugar industry of Swaziland. A total of 189 respondents participated in the investigation regarding their perceptions on three information access issues: i) barriers to information access; ii) readiness towards the use of ICT to access information and; iii) how information and knowledge is currently being managed. The study generally found that respondents did not perceive most of the barriers to be a hindrance to information access amongst themselves. They also regarded themselves as ready to use ICT, specifically cell phones, to access sugarcane production information. Finally, the study revealed that almost all the respondents have already started using their cell phone to manage information within their workplaces and farms. Based on the findings, the study then developed a communication model that will make use of the available communication resources to improve information dissemination and management among the sugar industry players. The study concluded by proposing a linkage that will see the government of Swaziland, the sugar industry players and the only mobile network provider in the country (MTN) coming together to support the smallholder sugarcane grower and facilitate the implementation of this model for improved sugarcane productivity.