Limited access to accurate and timely information by farming communities is perceived as a major drawback in the development of agriculture in Kenya. Subsequently, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MoALF) has promoted the integration of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to improve farmers‟ access to information and rapidly transform the delivery of agricultural extension services to them. The initiatives promoted include; mobile telephony, web based network and National Farmers Information Service (NAFIS) as channels of delivering extension messages to farmers. Since the introduction of ICT based information channels in provision of agricultural extension services in 2000, no empirical study has been conducted to assess how the farmers‟ access and utilise them and also examine the factors influencing these outcomes. The purpose of this study therefore was to assess selected factors that influence access and utilisation of the MoALF‟s used ICTs in order to inform strategies of widening use of ICTs in agriculture. A cross sectional survey with expost-facto design was adopted. Correct sampling was done to allow generalisation to other people, times and contexts and hence giving it external validity. A total of 110 respondents from 4 locations of Bahati Division, Nakuru North Subcounty, Nakuru County. were selected and interviewed. A questionnaire with closed and open-ended questions was used to collect data while secondary information was used to supplement the responses that had gaps. The questionnaire was subjected to scrutiny by professionals in the Department of Agricultural Education and Extension to assess the content, construct, criterion and face validity. Analysis was conducted using Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 17.0 software. Descriptive statistics used for analysis included modal distribution, means, standard deviations, frequencies and percentages. Chi Square statistical tests were applied for testing relevant hypotheses and inferences interpreted at 0.05 level of significance. The study revealed that farmers in this area relied on MoALF extension agents for agricultural information provided during field days, trade fairs, shows, office visits among other platforms. They also preferred information availed through mass media such as radio and televisions. Radio and mobile phones were common in most households though not used for acquisition of agriculture related information. Farmers in the study area received agricultural related information weekly, monthly and only a few on daily basis. There was generally low farmers‟ knowledge and usage of mainly computer and internet based ICT platforms in the study area. The farmer‟s age, gender and level of education were not significant determinants to the utilisation of MoALF information platforms. Farmers who had connection to electricity seemed to have been enjoying more services of NAFIS, use of phones and radio to access MoALF services. There was a significant association between distance travelled to access an extension worker and the utilisation of MoALF website and NAFIS services unlike the case for radio and mobile. These findings may inform policy makers at the MoALF to review the content and reassess the suitability of these channels as alternative extension delivery avenues. Further, consider involving target users in development of such future initiatives in order to meet and fulfill the potential of communication technology.

1.1 Background of the study
Globally, Information Communication Technology (ICT) in agriculture is a key field focusing on the enhancement of agricultural and rural development. It involves application of innovative ways to use information and communication technologies in delivering agricultural information to farmers. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations for instance, attaches great importance to the use of information, communication and associated technologies in sustainable agricultural development and food security (FAO, 2007). Through the World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT) which is the FAO's strategic resource for improving access to valuable documents, statistics, maps, and multimedia resources, FAO aims to foster the management and dissemination of agricultural information in an effort to achieve food security and fight hunger. WAICENT is a web based platform that aims to build the capacities of those who work to eliminate hunger by providing full-text publications and technical documents available through the internet on agriculture, fisheries, nutrition and forestry. Specific subjects include trends in trade, country-specific information, food safety and deforestation, among others.

Advancements in ICT can be utilised for providing accurate, timely, relevant information and services to the farmers, thereby facilitating an environment for more remunerative agriculture (FAO, 2007). The nature of ICTs is diverse, ranging from telephones, radios and TVs to more complex technologies such as internet technologies, mobile telephone, computers and databases. This diversity implies that they can be used by people with varying degrees of skill, although the current trend towards sophisticated applications could be more demanding to the end user.

The primary purpose of ICTs is to provide an enabling environment for the generation of ideas and knowledge, their dissemination and use by various target groups. In globalising agriculture where the need for information becomes most vivid, the smallholders farmers, who still provide a significant portion of the world‟s food, need information to advance their work. The ICTs foster the diffusion and sharing of knowledge enabling open access to information and better coordination of knowledge (Vachara & Walker, 2005). For instance, infonet-biovision (www.infonet-biovision.org) provides an internet-based information platform that promotes and disseminates locally relevant knowledge on sustainable agriculture, health promotion and environmentally safe technologies and approaches. This easy to access, practical and user- friendly information database is targeted at farmers‟ groups, NGOs and agricultural and health advisers. In order to make use of all possible dissemination channels, a so-called‚ offline version of the platform is available on CDs drive and can be used on computers without internet access.

ICT can be used to facilitate efficient transaction between manufacturers, distributors and the consumers as evidenced by the initiative by Farmchem, an agricultural input company who in 2010, launched Angaza Mkulima, a customer information website and SMS communication system to provide valuable information to farmers. The network provides a wide variety of information to farmers such as farming tips and strategies, locations of authorized ICT Applications and Agricultural Input Supply Companies. A farmer is required to submit the name and phone number through a simple form on the website or by sending an SMS with the same information for registration. Once registered, farmers gain access (through the website or SMS menu system) to farming tips and strategies for helping them increase their yields and profits. The system also allows farmers to give feedback on products, identify farmer field days near them, locate their nearest authorized retailer, get updates on new products, and order products directly to their nearest dealer ICTs facilitate the creation of networks and collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches locally, regionally and globally, leading to shared knowledge-bases, online forums and collaborative spaces and consequently problem solving and research diversification (Nyirenda, 2010). A good example is the Kenya Agricultural Information Network (KAINet) (www.kainet.or.ke) which is an information network set up to promote information exchange among stakeholders in the agricultural sector in order to support decision making, promote innovation in agriculture and subsequently improve livelihoods. It aims to modernise and increase productivity of the agricultural sector.

The Kenya Agricultural Information Network (KAINet) aims to establish coherent information management that maximises information collection, storing and sharing within member institutions and the network on a global platform. In doing so, KAINet encourages institutions to develop strategies that define how information flows within each of them. This offers an opportunity to systematically collect all the information from the institutions, standardise, and share it using appropriate web-based tools and methodologies. In this way, KAINet helps increase efficiency in information management thereby reducing duplication and wastage of resources. Thus there are opportunities that ICTs can offer for transforming the agricultural sector such as in contributing to achieving food security which requires new levels of innovation.

The following examples highlight more of the ICT applications that advisory services have used to improve their interactions and technical knowledge sharing with farmers in developing countries. These applications include web services such as “ask the expert,” mobile messaging for advice, radio programs to disseminate technical information, and video. Many of these endeavors are fairly new, limiting practitioners‟ ability to analyse their effectiveness. Another innovation is the M-Farm, a mobile service that aims to improve Kenya‟s agricultural sector by connecting farmers with one another, through peer-to-peer collaboration that can improve market information and enhance learning opportunities. Based around farmers‟ traditional needs, such as the need for market price and weather information, M-Farm is a subscription service that also works with larger institutions, such as NGOs and the government, to connect them with farmers

According to African Economic Outlook (2009), as telecommunications technologies continue to be widely embraced regionally, they open new opportunities for the continent. Fiber-optic cables are progressively being laid across the continent to connect these nations to the information superhighway through broadband internet connection. For the past one decade, Kenya has established one of the largest and fastest internet sectors in Africa. Since the use of internet was introduced in Kenya in 1994, the country has experienced phenomenal growth in its use (Ministry of Information and Communication, 2006). Use of mobile telephones on the other hand has spread rapidly, opening new communications channels that include voice and data and thereby enabling people even in the most remote parts of the continent to gain instant access to the internet.

Some of the common problems in adoption of ICT in rural segments are ICT illiteracy, non- availability of relevant and localised contents in the locals‟ own languages, easy and affordable accessibility and other challenges such as limited awareness and willingness for adoption of new technologies among the rural people (Ministry of Information and Communication, 2006). One critical aspect in the usage of ICTs is that they can, for example, speed up the extension of development services, can be instrumental in strengthening partnerships and in providing a framework for shared learning (Van Audenhove 2003).The advent of ICT in Kenya opens potential for delivery of appropriate extension and key messages in agriculture to farmers and other users. Currently, the capacity of internet, faxes, mobile phones, Television and Radio tools to relay information to users has proved to be key to leapfrogging enormous development.

The use of ICT in agriculture is still evolving compared to its application in other sectors such as transport. Use of ICT innovations in extension service delivery in Kenya is basically hampered by lack of adequate extension personnel, ICT infrastructure and budget support to reach the over

4.5 million farmers located in the expansive administrative units all over the country (Ministry of Agriculture, 2009). Through the Ministry‟s own Agricultural Information Resource Centre (AIRC), information most demanded by users is assessed, researched, evaluated and repackaged into booklets, leaflets, posters or books and audio-visual to suit users‟ needs before being disseminated (Ministry of Agriculture, 2009).

Kenya has different regions that are variably endowed in terms of level and quality of telecommunications, access to information, interest and individuals effort among farmers to access ICT. According to the records of past annual reports on agriculture, Nakuru North Subcounty for instance, is considered to have modest infrastructure and is well endowed in extension personnel, weather and the farming conditions. The majority of farmers in Bahati, Nakuru are post primary graduates with adequate awareness on extension messages delivered through their local extension agents. Through the normal extension activities and fora such as field days, farmer trainings, barazas (local gatherings) and farm visits, the MoALF extension staff brief the farmers on the existence and use of the MoALF ICT initiatives as valuable sources of agricultural information. However, being a rural area, there is a likelihood of vast information divide amongst ICT users in the sub-county (Ministry of Information and Communication, 2006). The ICT initiative by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries to fill the information gap is one such attempt. For instance, sending a short message about the name of crop and the name of a division where the sender resides to a specific telephone number to get advice on the variety of the crop suitable for that division, one types the text Bahati# Maize and send to 5354 (the number is regularly changed to avoid distortion by dishonest players). In addition, clients can simply dial 020-5100102 from phone handsets and be able to access information on crop varieties, planting spacing, fertilizer use, pests and diseases and their control from the comfort of their homes.

For the farmers who are internet literate, the Ministry has provided a link to interactive pages where a farmer can log in and ask experts to answer or explain technical information needs on agriculture. Further, farmers can call in through the ministry‟s open telephone lines, 020 2718870/9 and seek any information needs including the prevailing major markets and prices of agriculture produce.

In order to combat “Fake” Agro-Inputs Counterfeit agricultural inputs, KEPHIS, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, provides an SMS service to help diligent farmers verify that seed they have purchased is from a licensed input dealer. The farmer sends an SMS containing the dealer„s license number to the KEHPIS system and receives an response confirming the agro- dealer„s status. The service is available for users of Kenya‟s main mobile service providers with the farmers only expected to meet the cost of the outgoing SMS. This is an initiative that could interest input supply companies who may wish to track inputs from their factories to the farms destined for use.

Through a platform hosted by www.plantwise.org/knowledgebank, the Ministry collaboratively provide plant health information and service to farmers and extension agents on various crop enterprises. The platform provides common signs of a pest or disease attack on a crop, management of the condition being chemical, cultural or biological including tolerant varieties for free While some of these ICT initiatives are intended to address the needs of the farmers, the socioeconomic factors of intended beneficiaries that would affect their actual usage has not been examined.

Statement of the Problem
The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries has initiated the use of ICT as an additional way of enhancing communication of information to the farming community. The ICT initiatives include; hosting the Ministry‟s website (www.kilimo.go.ke), use of the National Farmers Information Service (NAFIS) (www.nafis.go.ke), interactive radio programmes (mteja mfalme) and telephone lines, for Interactive Voice Response. Despite the investments in these initiatives, there has been no study to examine the factorsthat actually determine effective use of the ICT by farmers in Nakuru North Subcounty. This study therefore was carried out to determine and document the factors that influence access and utilisation of the MoALF‟s used ICTs by farmers of Bahati Division, Nakuru North Subcounty, Nakuru County.

Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study was to establish the key factors that determine the use of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries provided ICT initiatives in Nakuru North Subcounty and if addressed would inform the wayforward to the policy makers and planners to improve on their use.

Objectives of the study
The study had the following main objectives;

1) To identify and document the commonly applied source and channel of agricultural information amongst farmers in Nakuru North Subcounty

2) To assess the level of access to and utilisation of the MoALF provided ICT initiatives in Nakuru North Subcounty.

3) To determine the user‟s socioeconomic factors that determines access to and utilisation of the MoALF ICT initiatives in Nakuru North Subcounty.

4) To determine selected institutional factors that may determine a user‟s ability to access and utilise the MoALF provided ICT initiatives in Nakuru North Subcounty.

Hypotheses of the study
Ho1: there is no statistically significant relationship between the utilisation status of MoALF information platforms (Radio, Mobile phone, MoALF website, NAFIS) and age of farmers in Nakuru North Subcounty.

Ho2: there is no statistically significant relationship (independence) between the utilisation status of MoALF information platforms (Radio, Mobile phone, MoALF website, NAFIS) and level of education of farmers in Nakuru North Subcounty.

Ho3: there is no statistically significant relationship between the utilisation status of MoALF information platforms (Radio, Mobile phone, MoALF website, NAFIS) and gender of farmers in Nakuru North Subcounty.

Ho4: there is no statistically significant relationship between the utilisation status of MoALF information platforms (Radio, Mobile phone, MoALF website, NAFIS) and distance travelled to access an extension office to farmers in Nakuru North Subcounty.

Ho5: there is no statistically significant relationship between the utilisation status of MoALF information platforms (Radio, Mobile phone, MoALF website, NAFIS) and access to electricity to farmers in Nakuru North Subcounty.

Significance of the study
The findings of this study inform the debate on the value of ICT in extension service delivery. The study findings may enable MoALF particularly to develop a more informed policy on its investment and that of the county governments on ICT based information channels that are easily accessible and utilised by staff, farmers and stakeholders. Extension agents will effectively deliver new information and technical innovations required to cope with farmers‟ challenges and thereby enhance the livelihoods of Nakuru North farmers and farm households through the most preferred information channel revealed by the study.

Moreover, since the introduction of ICT in provision of agricultural extension services in Kenya, no empirical study has been conducted to assess the accessibility and utilisation of the ICT based information in agricultural extension. This study has therefore been timely.

Scope of the study
This study was conducted only in Bahati Division of Nakuru North Subcounty and thus the study considered some relevant factors informed by literature review in the area of adoption of innovations. The respondents interviewed were head of households. The selected factors were limited to the farmers‟ socioeconomic characteristics (gender of the user, age of the household head, his/her (educational level), land ownership and on farm and off farm income sources) and institutional factors (connection to electricity, availability of extension services, and distance to an extension office/agent, availability of ICT infrastructure and cost of ICT).

Limitation of the study
Bahati Division has some parts with road network that is not all weather making them inaccessible with a vehicle. The researcher used motorcycles to reach some respondents where applicable. Some of the respondents were unwilling to fill the questionnaire especially where the household head was away. The researcher used available secondary information and also administered the questionnaire asking for clarifications in order to get the required information or to supplement the responses that had gaps.

Conducting the study at the onset of devolution and reorganisation of government functions called for strict observance of time as some of the platforms would either be temporarily or permanently be off air with the reconstruction of new units‟ websites, transfer of functions, end of donor support among others. Some respondents would probably have found it hard to recall some platforms or services that are no longer in operation.

Assumptions of the study
The study made the following assumptions:
i. The respondents would be honest and truthful with the information provided on the use of ICT amongst farming community in Nakuru North Subcounty.

ii. The personal and socioeconomic factors as well as the institutional considerations investigated in this study were critical to influencing access to and use of provided ICT initiatives.

iii. The findings from this sample would be valuable in informing how to strengthen the optimal use of ICT initiatives to deliver information to farmers to the entire country.

iv. The political environment of the general election would not negatively affect data collection during the study.

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