African smallholders face many risks and uncertainty in the face of climate change and other shocks. Economic, health and environmental crises exacerbate resilience; take for example the COVID-19 pandemic and the escalating food and fertilizer prices resulting from the conflict in Ukraine. The unavailability and nearly four-fold price increase of fertilizer will affect food production and prices in Africa. Risk-proof and productivity enhancing practices, skills and technologies provided by agricultural extension are essential to cope with these challenges, enabling smallholders to produce food and maintain livelihoods while sustaining natural resources. Such complex challenges require multidimensional approaches with pluralistic actors and multiple methods, particularly digitalization.
In Africa, there are countries with well-developed public extension systems with high staff numbers, such as Ethiopia, and others with smaller numbers of public agents where private services complement the public system, such as Uganda. Most countries are somewhere in between, but for countries with limited government resources, the use of the private sector and civil society to supplement the public system and connect to markets becomes even more important.
Digital tools are particularly important for extension, for decision-making and to connect diverse actors and facilitate access to input/output markets, improved technologies, extension services/information, finance, and private sector provision. Digital technology applications are increasingly integrated in extension systems to support farmers to increase productivity and incomes, expand opportunities and increase resilience by adopting better suited varieties, managing pests and disease, adapting to climate change, obtaining inputs, and accessing financial services. Digitalization of agricultural extension is an important tool to reach farmers with services and information to accelerate agricultural transformation in Africa to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Increasing investment in digital technologies to help small-scale farmers will bring significant benefits long after the supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and Ukraine crisis has passed.
Thus, strengthening multidimensional and digitally-enabled agricultural extension is a key means to strengthen resilience of smallholder farmers in Africa. This symposium will highlight trends, good practices, and recommendations for multidimensional, digitally-enables agricultural extension.