Agricultural knowledge and information systems (AKISs) among small-scale farmers in Kirinyaga District, Kenya.
There has been growing interest, locally, nationally, and internationally in agricultural knowledge and information systems (AKISs) stemming from their important role in facilitating learning, innovation and the sharing and exchange of knowledge and information. Despite the fact that small-scale farmers and farmers‘ groups are among the key actors in an AKIS, little attention is devoted to their needs. This study aimed to understand the AKISs of small-scale farmers (male, female and the youth) in Kirinyaga district, Kenya. The study investigated small-scale farmers, and in particular farmers‘ groups as key actors in supporting agricultural development and linkages between actors, their information behaviour, sources of information and knowledge, linkages and flows of knowledge and information including the role of information and communication technologies (ICTs). The study also investigated the usage of these resources, barriers to accessing knowledge and information, and existing knowledge and information management practices. The study adopted multiple paradigms and perspectives but was mainly guided by the Social constructivist paradigm and the Soft systems perspective. The theoretical framework was constructed upon an integration of the Sense-making1 theory, Social cognitive theory, Social capital concept, Communities of practice (CoPs), Wilson‘s general model of information seeking behaviour, Meyer‘s information transfer model, Knowledge management theory and the Cynefin framework. The research design was a multiple methods approach that triangulated qualitative, quantitative Sense-Making, Participatory and Soft systems methodologies. Data was collected through interviews with individual farmers belonging or not belonging to a group; key informants; research, training and education institutions; civil society organisations (CSOs); and government departments using semi-structured interview guides unique to each category of informant. Focus group discussions were conducted with farmers‘ groups while questionnaires were sent to information providers. Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Knowledge Systems, participatory rural appraisal methods, unobtrusive observation of the activities of farmers and other actors in the community and secondary information sources were also used to collect data. The findings of the study showed that rich and deep data was collected through the multiple methods research design, and that no conflict arose from using multiple paradigms in a single multifaceted and multidisciplinary study where specific research questions were addressed. The Sense-Making methodology provided useful approaches to studying the information behaviour and decision making processes of small-scale farmers, and to investigate the feelings, emotions and dreams of farmers in Kirinyaga district. However, the experience of this study showed that using a multiple methods research design could result in a very large study. The findings show that small-scale farmers need information from diverse sources and on a wide range of topics along the production and marketing value chains, based on their enterprise(s), geographic location and the actors active on the ground. Male and female farmers expressed needs on similar topics but the needs were gender differentiated with variations in the priorities, types of information needed, the weight attached to each topic, and the information seeking behaviour. Most farmers and almost half the groups combined external information and local knowledge in their farming, and information and knowledge was shared orally along social and cultural lines. Most of the groups were legally constituted and had the status of farmers‘ groups; a few were cooperatives. Farmers‘ groups emerged as key actors in the AKIS of the district and provided platforms for learning, innovation, sharing and the exchange of ideas, information and knowledge among their members. The findings show that most groups did not share information with non-group members, which led to information asymmetries between farmers belonging or not belonging to a group. The findings of the study show variations in sources used by male only, female only, youth only and mixed groups. Male only groups relied mostly on private sector sources, while female only, youth only and mixed groups depended more on public extension services. The main sources of market information were local markets, followed by neighbours, other farmers and cooperatives and societies. Extension emerged as the most important source of advice, information and knowledge on farming in general, followed by the private sector and neighbours. Groups mainly obtained information on news, new technologies or farming methods from extension, media and private sector actors, while they obtained most answers to their farming questions from their groups, extension services, neighbours and other farmers. There were variations in the sources used by different types of groups for advice, information or knowledge in general, as well as in sources used by farmers belonging or not belonging to a group in different geographic divisions. There were more than 150 actors in the public, private and CSO sectors, and there were many AKISs in Kirinyaga district, which were location specific and depended on the enterprise(s) produced and the actors that were present on the ground. Most linkages were horizontal and were weak. Farmers‘ groups and social networks provided a unique linkage mechanism to other actors and access to services such as extension, markets and basic needs. This finding suggests the need to strengthen the capacity of farmers‘ groups and encourage farmers to join or form groups. There were variations in the importance, strength and quality of the relationships between actors in different divisions, locations and sub-locations, but the linkages with farmers were generally weak. The Kirinyaga stakeholders‘ forum and a few partnerships of actors facilitated vertical flow of information between actors but the linkages were equally weak. Farmers mainly used oral communication to access and share information and knowledge. While farmers belonging to a group generally used meetings, neighbours and radio, farmers not belonging to a group mostly used radio, neighbours and cellular phones. The findings indicate that farmers preferred to use radio, television and cellular phones for accessing agricultural information but the usage of modern ICTs was low and most of the users were male. Farmers encountered many barriers in accessing and sharing agricultural information and knowledge including insufficient sources in the community; lack of awareness of who the ―knowers‖ in the community were; limited availability of information providers; poor access to and quality of information on production, value addition and markets and prices; high cost of information services; inadequate information resources and few learning opportunities; personal, social and cultural barriers; communication barriers; and illiteracy. To address these barriers and constraints, farmers used diverse sources of external information and local knowledge for decision making, problem solving, innovation and for improving understanding. While most farmers obtained operational, technical and awareness information from major sources, there was little usage of ICT based information systems. There was no bibliographic control of agricultural information resources and there were very few resource centres in the community. Most local knowledge was tacit and was held in people‘s heads and therefore shared orally from elders to the younger generations and through CoPs in the groups. The study concludes that the AKISs in Kirinyaga district were complex, dynamic, and location specific, and although there were diverse and complementary actors, the information and knowledge within the AKIS was not sufficient to meet the needs of small-scale farmers. Public extension services emerged as the key source of information for small-scale farmers and private extension services such as those offered by horticultural exporting companies were a pillar of support for commercial farmers. There were insufficient numbers of information providers, which meant extension officers were not easily accessible. These findings suggest the need to formalise and strengthen linkages between actors, to improve access to agricultural knowledge and information, and to formulate policy and regulatory frameworks that are gender responsive. There is a need for policies that facilitate the collection, processing, storage and dissemination of external agricultural information and the capturing, documenting and sharing of local knowledge.