Unlocking Markets for Rural Farmers in Nigeria through Digital Literacy

Written by:
Khadijat B. Amolegbe, Lead Principal Investigator at the University of Ilorin; Senakpon F. A. Dedehouanou, Co-Principal Investigator, Université d’Abomey Calavi (UAC); and Sunmibola Olaniyi, Research Assistant, University of Ilorin

Rural farmers in Nigeria face high post-harvest loss and minimal sales due to limited access to markets. They usually sell major crops like maize and millet through the local markets at very low prices. Nigeria is experiencing a digital revolution, a potential opportunity to harness the advantages of digital tools and services for expanding rural farmers' access to larger agricultural output markets. However, despite the rapid digital transformation, over half of those who do not use the internet are held back by lack of necessary digital literacy skills, according to 2022 World Development Report. The Rural Digital Literacy (RDL) project, led by the University of Ilorin, is one of the 12 research projects under the Advancing Local Leadership and Innovation Networks (ALL-IN)* program funded by USAID and implemented by Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Markets, Risk and Resilience (MRR) in collaboration with ICED. This research project is meant to assess the relationship between digital literacy and market access and explores how digital literacy can spur the demand for digital marketing platforms in rural areas.  

To support rural farming communities in Nigeria in making the digital transition and benefitting from digital services, the RDL project is deploying these strategies:

Whetting the appetite – Rural farmers are often time-constrained and will either spend their time on the farm or have leisure. Farmers have little interest in attending formal training sessions because many literacy interventions targeted at rural communities are often complex, long, and boring, and, therefore, fail to lure the farmers' interest. The project designed a five-minute pre-training video in the local language, infusing traditional interludes using talking drums, appellations, and poems. The video was screened before the training, and it briefly introduced each training module. This served as a “town crier” announcement and set the tone for our training session with the farmers. In addition to the pre-training video, the project implemented interactive sessions, hands-on activities, and intuitive visuals like app icons during the training sessions to make learning both informative and enjoyable for rural farmers.

Invite all and train to retain – To further address farmers' time constraint issues and increase retention, the project structured the training sessions following three principles: flexibility, accessibility, and practicability. We introduced an 8-hour training session to cover seven modules, such as the basic features of smartphones, accessing the internet, uploading and sharing pictures, cyber safety, accessing digital financial platforms, and using digital marketing apps. Each module included activity sessions that involved hands-on group work.

Farmers had access to smartphones with internet connection during the training, leading to enhanced understanding of digital marketing. The project also included photo frames and printed hand icons of digital platforms like Agriple and WhatsApp to make the training session fun and practical. The RDL research team delivered the training in the local dialect, and farmers were given interactive training manuals to refer to during and after the training sessions. The RDL team invited the head and other household members to attend the training. The training was held within the community, yielding a high attendance rate, with all households having at least one person stay until the end of the training session.

RDL project training participant holds a certificate. Source: Rural Digital Literacy Project

Create a reward system – A reward system often ensures training completion and participation. The RDL project issued the farmers with certificates of attendance after the training, which served as an incentive for dedicating their time throughout the training sessions.

Send a reminder and make it memorable – RDL recognized that a day’s training session may not be sufficient; hence, the research team also recorded accompanying videos for all the modules. The training manual includes details on how to access the videos on the RDL Google Drive and WhatsApp to refresh their memories. The farmers were then sent the training videos, post-training, on a biweekly basis via WhatsApp. They were also sent monthly messages to remind them to refer to their training manual and accompanying materials.  

Create a sustainable support system – The RDL project also launched a literacy intervention to raise a new generation of rural digital marketing agents. The digital marketing agency system has been used in various mobile money interventions and has proved to be good in addressing digital gaps in societies. The rural communities identified suitable individuals with basic digital skills to serve as agents. So, we trained and equipped one agent per community. Content covered during the training include a refresher of basic digital skills and other skills on online advertising, social media marketing, and e-commerce strategies. The RDL team also provided basic business kits to start a digital marketing business, including stall signage, certificates, and record books. The agents will become intermediaries, connecting farmers to digital markets, providing digital training services, and supporting farmers using digital marketing platforms. The agents were also linked to external desk officers in reputable digital market platforms to support and respond to their queries, and they were provided with a list of various digital marketing platforms to explore.

Understanding what works to address the digital gap between rural and urban communities is an ongoing project under the ALL-IN program, and this initiative continues to explore the various pathways to address these issues. The RDL project has designed simple training modules and supporting materials that can be adapted and used for other population groups.

The RDL project's emphasis on capacity building has been instrumental in cultivating a cadre of young experts proficient in leveraging digital tools for designing survey instruments and conducting high-quality field surveys. This strategic investment is pivotal for ensuring the collection of reliable and accurate data, which serves as a cornerstone for evidence-informed policy making. By empowering smallholder farmers with valuable insights and information, these efforts help to optimize agricultural practices and enable policy makers to make informed decisions that drive positive change and sustainable development within rural communities.

*ALL-IN is a development research program that funds various research projects across six African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Nigeria). ALL-IN is implemented by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Markets, Risk & Resilience, in collaboration with the International Centre for Evaluation and Development (ICED).