Farmers in Malawi are not making full use of telecentres that provide valuable information and communication technology (ICT) data on agribusiness, but are mainly using them for sending emails, a workshop has heard.

The Web 2.0 and Social Media Learning Opportunity workshop was organised last month (1-5 September) in Lilongwe, Malawi to build the capacity of, communicators, agricultural and rural development practitioners, and sector-related experts to enhance agribusiness and food security interventions.

According to Malawi’s national librarian Gray Nyali, who attended the workshop, the country’s National Library Service (NLS) has upgraded its ICT infrastructure, thus making it a suitable partner for the Netherlands-headquartered Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), which funded the workshop.

“Our partner — CTA of the Netherlands — promotes good agricultural practices and has introduced new programmes that increase awareness in the developing world.”

Gray Nyali, National Library Service (NLS), Malawi

But Nyali adds that despite the country having 51 telecentres spread throughout remote areas, farmers are not maximising their use to access agricultural products at regional and global markets.

The ICT facilities upgrade resulted from a project to set up the national digital repository as an information database through cooperation NLS had developed with the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

“Our partner — CTA of the Netherlands — promotes good agricultural practices and has introduced new programmes that increase awareness in the developing world,” Nyali said, adding that social media tools can be used to improve rural livelihoods and that Malawi has benefitted from the partnership.

Nyali is urging the trainees to share the knowledge gained and appeals to service providers to offer quality internet services to reach many Malawians, noting that NLS has a development centre with online and hard copies of information on agriculture.

During the training, participants were taken through several modules such as social networking risks and mitigation measures, online communities of practice, accessing information through advanced multilingual search options, social media for agribusiness and marketing, and other new media tools.

CTA’s senior programme coordinator for ICT4D innovation, Giacomo Rambaldi, said increased access to advances in technology and innovation, including simple internet-based applications, is enhancing online collaboration among users at little or no cost.

But Moses Michael-Phiri, the online and new media editor of The Nation, a Malawi-based newspaper, cautions that social media has brought the major challenge of lack of regulation. “There are no laws governing the social media. This challenge means that new media users should be alert to only take what is posted online as anecdotes or tips for further processing,” he says.

Michael-Phiri also cites challenges such as being up-to-date on the web and keeping up with the fast-evolving technology that could be expensive, even for conducting research.

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