Christoph Spurk
Publication Date
August 30, 2013

Institute of Applied Media Studies (Spurk, Schanne), Multimedia University, College of Kenya ( Mak’Ochieng, Ugangu)

This 50-page report discusses information‐seeking behaviours of small-scale farming households in Kenya. The research project focused on how farmers are informed about innovation regarding new methods of increasing agricultural productivity, which is one of the main challenges for Africa’s agriculture and its rural population. Based on findings, the authors recommend developing new concepts for communication with farmers where radio plays the central role, and with critical journalists who can engage with extension officers and researchers. A media mix around radio can then complement the different information needs of farmers.

In this research project the focus was on information seeking and less on information processing, as it was the first step to understand the information behaviour of small‐scale farmers. Consequently, the design of the questionnaire was tailored to ask for factors that are decisive for information seeking, such as accessibility to and availability of information, issue involvement, perceived need for information, perceived social pressures to be informed, but also for personal factors like risk acceptance, risk avoidance, and innovation readiness. The sample consisted of 612 filled questionnaires from selected divisions. Out of the 612 questionnaires 51% were conducted with women, 46% with men, and the remaining 3% with couples.

The following are some of the findings:

  • Information behaviour of small‐scale farmers: The survey provides a picture of farmers' access and use of various media channels, both for general and for agricultural information. Radio is still the favourite channel for farmers with 95% of respondents having radio access. Thus, radio is by far the single most important media channel for sharing information with small‐scale farmers. TV has a share of 28%, and print is quite rare in rural areas. Only 14% of respondents had access to newspapers, and 5% to magazines. But two thirds of respondents had access to a mobile phone, which is almost exactly the average of mobile phone penetration in rural Kenya. 83% preferred the radio as a media channel, but only 21% preferred the mobile phone as a media channel. Interestingly, there is a clear pattern between education level and media preferences: The higher the education level, the more TV and newspapers are preferred and the less radio. But still, radio leads by far also in the highest education sub‐group with 76%.
  • Characteristics of information sources for agricultural information: Interviewees were asked to name the five most important challenges in agriculture. The lack of capital is the most important challenge, as it was named by over 60% of respondents (less in Nyeri and Nakuru with 47%), followed by the challenge of handling new varieties of crops (58%, but much less in Nyeri North, a high potential area). Fighting diseases(47%), availability of water (47%) and using fertilisers(40%) followed as challenges. The high priority given to lack of capital and technical issues (seeds, pesticides, water) and lower priority for markets and other economic issues might be explained by the fact of absolute poverty. These concerns are apparently not those of the majority of farmers; it seems to be too distant for a considerable number of small farmers. An impression from field work was that many farmers do speak of lack of capital, but are not informed about the very basic economics of farming, like simple cost‐benefit or gross margin calculations. Against the background of those challenges, farmers were asked to name the sources they use for receiving information on agriculture from a given list of sources. The main five information sources for farmers are "other farmers and family", "mass media", "government extension services", and "barazas".
  • Information needs: The survey contained a list of information options in specific fields and farmers could choose whether they see it as "very important", or "less important" or "not at all important" to get more information from that field or topic. The answers overwhelmingly indicated a significant need for more information in almost every sector. These results are strongly backed by the open answers farmers gave when asked what problems they have with information or what kind of information they were missing. From the responses it was evident that farmers appreciated what was novel. For example, a number of them appreciated information on crops that they had not planted in the past.
  • Preferences of farmers: Farmers were asked for their preferences regarding the mode of information. The results are a strong plea for comprehensive information, i.e. most farmers opt for more explanations and accompanied by various options. 62% of farmers say they want information with various options and lot of explanation. Additionally, 24% of farmers say that they prefer a lot of explanation even if there is only one option presented. So, these two sub‐groups requested in-depth information with a lot of explanation. Only 14% prefer straight information with or without explanation.
  • Innovation in small-scale farming and information patterns: Raising agricultural productivity depends on a variety of factors, and it is almost unquestioned that the personal readiness for innovation plays a role. Farmers were asked whether they were in some way innovative last season (i.e an improvement in methods, or growing a new product) and whether they are planning any innovations next season. Out of the two variables the research tried to cluster farmers in strong, medium, and non-innovators. More than half of farmers (54%) have introduced an innovation in the last season, and 62% plan to introduce an innovation for next season. Those strong innovators, a very interesting group for agricultural research to be taken up – are mostly found in the high potential areas of the study, i.e. Nyeri North and Bugoma East; in arid and semi-arid regions (ASAL) there are far fewer strong innovators.

Arising out of the study, the recommendations for governments as well as donors are as follows:

  • It is recommended to give radio a central role in communication to farmers and to integrate the extension service in a critical way. Information needs to be localised, just in time, specific, and at the same time useful and implementable. This requires agricultural journalists that are knowledgeable of farming issues and of farmers’ needs working in those radio stations. Only then can they enter into a useful dialogue with extension officers and researchers.
  • Research itself needs to develop a strategy as to how to communicate with farmers directly when extension services are limited in scope and finance, as currently in Kenya.
  • There is a need to investigate the very content of information provided by radio and extension services to farmers more intensively and to assess how deep, appropriate, and diversified this information is. There is the assumption that a lot of information in radio is guided by the commercial interests of advertisers and not by farmers’ needs, and that the quality of information suffers from that linkage.
  • Additionally, the information flow between research and extension itself needs to be investigated. Researchers presume that a lot of useful information gets lost or is not taken up by extension. Thus, the information chain between research and farmers is broken.

In conclusion, radio is by far the media channel mostly used by small-scale farming households in Kenya for receiving agricultural information. The mobile phone is much less used for receiving agricultural information although it is regarded by Western donors and modern NGOs as being the new media channel for farmers. On the contrary, any communication to farmers that wants to reach a large audience needs to be built around the radio, and an appropriate media mix (newspapers, brochures, mobile services) can then complement the information supply by radio.


Email from Christoph Spurk on October 25 2013 Good information is in short supply [PDF] on March 19 2014.
Image credit: Farm Radio International.