Social Media and Agricultural Extension in the Caribbean

The world over people, communities, industries and sectors are looking to social media tools as the basis for communication. As the medium allows the user to freely generate and share content of their making, the social media phenomenon is now the norm.

The trend has impacted upon the Caribbean as well especially amongst young people. According to the on-line social media statistics website; Trinidad and Tobago has over 486 000 Facebook users. The largest age group is currently 25 – 34 with total of 155 392 users, followed by the users in the age of 18 – 24. Similarly Jamaica has over 688 000 users.

With a population of 1.3 and 2.8 million respectively, and the number of users growing steadily, these figures are worthy of mention. Many industries within the Caribbean have taken advantage of this penetration into the on-line community found within these nations. The energy, tourism, commerce and fast food industries are some of the major examples. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the regional agriculture industry.

Given the number of countries and the high amount of users of social media that can be found in the Caribbean, the quantity of government led agri-institutions/stakeholders that also utilize social media simply does not compare.

For example the Extension Training and Information Services (ETIS) in Trinidad and Tobago do not utilize any social media outlet. The same occurs in Guyana whereby the New Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) has organized a farmer/stakeholder communication network using mobile phones however social media tools are absent. In the former situation farmers are expected to visit the ETIS offices to communicate their problems and to receive training.

On the other hand they receive field visits by extension officers but these are known to be insufficient at times. These are the only method of interaction provided by these extension services. Conversely in Jamaica, The Rural Agricultural Development Agency (RADA) operates a lively Facebook page, with approximately 300 followers.  RADA is a statutory body that seeks to enhance the development of farming through an effective, efficient and sustainable extension service.

This institute has embraced the social media norm, to a certain degree. Similar examples can be found amongst smaller islands. The nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines played host to Eat Caribbean, a Value chain Podcast, organized by the Caribbean Farmer’s Network. The programme involved a Radio Talkshow, Podcast and Weblog outlets ‘Promoting Sustainable Agribusiness Value Chains’ in the CARICOM. Though successful it has not been updated since November 2011.

Regardless of these drawbacks, the youth involved in Agriculture have not fully emulated this behaviour. Social media has been beneficial in linking young professionals in the field. There are many groups across the Caribbean that have been advocating for youth involvement in agriculture at varying degrees. Social Media has allowed these groups to build networks in their respective geographic areas. The technology has also allowed some of these groups to forge links with each other, share information and provide moral support.

A major example of such is the Agribusiness Society of the University of the West Indies, a student organisation that aims to provide adequate enabling conditions towards the development of agri-preneurs by empowering students through practical and theoretical learning. This group has established a Facebook page that has become highly active along with a twitter and youtube account soon to be on stream.

Other instances can be found within some island chapters of the Caribbean Agriculture Forum for Youth. (CAFY) Although this agri-youth group is meant to be found in each Caribbean country, the individual chapters face varying levels of activity. Groups with the most on-line presence include Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis.  These youth represent the future of agriculture in the Caribbean.

That being said, these agri youth groups do not signify agricultural extension as it is currently defined. It is apparent that the service is simply not accessible or provided through social media. However one instance refutes this assumption. “To help small farmers in the region, a team from the University of the West Indies, in collaboration with a University of Greenwich graduate, made use of mobile ‘smart’ phones to improve the accessibility of relevant agricultural knowledge and information.”

This team has created,Virtual Outreach an online platform meant to act as a farmer’s information resource on the go. It aims to serve the needs of farmers by providing a place where they can; obtain answers to agricultural questions; receive field diagnostics and recommendations; and collaborate with experts. This resource can act as an extension service however it is privately led.

It is clear that social media is present in the Caribbean; however its penetration is to a much lesser extent within the agricultural sector and the provision of extension services. Nevertheless with the aforementioned initiatives up and running this may change in the foreseeable future, a message we will take to the GCARD conference!

This blogpost was written by Keron Bascombe, one of the GCARD social reporters

Top picture courtesy Social Maximizer

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