Due to over 80% of the population of Malawi being rural based, the majority of people are usually remote from the urban centres which enjoy good communication, information and transport networks. Information is essential to the operation of any organisation, and the more up to date, relevant and timely that information is, the greater the benefits it provides.
NASFAM’s membership covers two thirds of the country but member communities are scattered from each other, and are often remote from their Association office. This increases the challenges of reaching members with the support and information that is key to increasing their productivity and improving their livelihoods.
While NASFAM has records of member names and “addresses” at each Association, information on where those members live is usually known by the Field Officer and the community. There is no overall picture or map of where the member plots are located, resulting in information flow between members and NASFAM being inadequate and programmes not being as effectively targeted as they could be.
The NASFAM extension network of Field Officers and Farmer Trainers provides hands on support and guidance to the members, but there are time and cost limits to the frequency of that support. Due to the remote nature of Associations and their communities there are challenges of ensuring that Field Staff have the latest information to pass on to Farmer Trainers and members. While the advent of mobile networks has improved communication, there still remain offices without reliable or even any connection to the internet, email and fax due to lack of appropriate local telecommunications infrastructure. This reduces the transfer of up to date information between members and staff.
In this context the NASFAM radio programme make a major contribution to providing up to date and topical information to the members, in the absence of field visits and other forms of information exchange. In addition to the technical challenges of efficient flow of information, NASFAM is also faced with ensuring the technical capacity of staff to support activities and programmes. A system is only as effective as the operator of that system. Whether in the field, in the Association or Regional Offices, or at Head Office, it is the commitment and input of the staff that ensure the system operates effectively. Staff must be provided with appropriate and up to date skills to ensure capacity to deliver programmes and results to the members. This requires training of staff as necessary to fill skill gaps, skills which will be passed through the extension to network to benefit members.
The Solution – NASFAM’s Interventions
- Membership Mapping: With NASFAM’s membership being scattered, there are challenges of reaching members with extension support, as well as accessing information from members on their estimated crop production. Undertaking a Global Information Systems survey would allow the mapping of the size and location of member plots, so that accurate crop estimations can be made which can better guarantee fulfilment of customer contracts. In addition, having a visual map of membership allows more specific targeting of programmes, to provide greater benefits to members.
- Radio Programmes: NASFAM produces a twice-weekly 30 minute radio programme, aired nationwide on MBC1. This provides a channel for reaching members and the broader community with up to date information and advice on how to increase their social and economic productivity from smallholder farming. Programmes feature information on crop production techniques, recommended varieties, market prices, strategies for mitigating the impact of HIV and AIDS, the role of women and gender equality in farming, nutrition and utilisation of indigenous foods, household and community food security.
- Remote Connectivity: NASFAM is working to connect all Association offices to full telecommunications packages to ensure that all of the NASFAM system can communicate as required. Connection to the internet will provide Association staff with access to email which speeds up exchange of information and reduces costs of using couriers. In addition is planned to create local business centres at the Associations, providing members with improved access to information and providing the community with business services to generate income for the Associations.
- Staff Training: In order to build the technical capacity of staff so that they can fully deliver services to members and meet productivity potential, NASFAM plans to provide appropriate training for staff. This may take the form of mentoring by experts or colleagues, exchanges with other organisations or formal training courses. All training needs will be assessed in terms of the expected outcomes for staff and the knock on impact for members. Training will be prioritised where it will improve management, improve development of programmes, increase innovation and ultimately contribute to improved member livelihoods.