Implementation of policies and strategies for agricultural information access and use in Tanzania.
Chailla, Angela Mashauri.
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Agriculture is an important enterprise in Africa and indeed in Tanzania where it is one of the major economic sectors, embracing all its population. Agriculture contributes about 60% to the Gross Domestic Product, generates about 75% of the total export earnings and employs 84% of the Tanzanian active labour force. Information plays a critical role in agricultural development in most countries. However, one of the most serious reasons adduced for the low agricultural production in Africa is the limited access to adequate information support to all stakeholders in agricultural production. This affects all sectors of research, extension and training. Inadequate access to and use of agricultural information by research scientists undermines the potential to fulfil their information needs. They often lack access to current, relevant and timely information. This results in duplication of research efforts. Lack of access to scientific literature in the agricultural field in Tanzania has been attributed to the ineffectiveness of the various information providers in the country, among which the key ones are agricultural libraries and documentation centres. Studies by agricultural information specialists and international organizations have established that agricultural libraries and documentation centres in Less Developed Countries have not excelled in providing agricultural information to users. This has been attributed to several reasons. The major one being the non-implementation of policies, strategies and recommendations advanced by scholars, international organizations and consultants for more availability, accessibility and use of agricultural libraries' services and facilities. The main objectives of this study were to establish the extent to which Tanzania has implemented the key policies, strategies and recommendations for enhancing accessibility and use of agricultural libraries and documentation centres' services and facilities. Some of the key policies and strategies recommended by scholars include; increasing the libraries' capacity in human, financial and material resources. Such policies and strategies include, among many others: library staff development, cooperation and networking among agricultural libraries and documentation centres at national regional and international levels and formulation of national information policies to give guidance to agricultural information acquisition, organization, management and provision. They also include formulation of Information and Communication Technologies' policies for standardization in operating systems and data formats. Two main data collection instruments were used in the study namely; a self administered questionnaire and an interview schedule. The instruments were supplemented by on site observations of the libraries' operational activities. The sample size comprised 34 agricultural libraries and documentation centres located in all seven agricultural zones and 18 interviewees from the Ministry of agriculture, agricultural institutions and research stations. The Statistical Product and Service Solution (SPSS) for Windows version 9.0 was used to analyze the quantitative and qualitative data. The problems facing agricultural libraries and documentation centres in Less Developed Countries today are many and varied, and differ from one country to another. In Tanzania, the study findings established that these problems can be classified into six major categories: lack of adequate resources/materials; inadequate number of qualified personnel at managerial, professional and technical levels; lack of cooperation and coordination among existing libraries and documentation centres; limited financial resources; lack of explicit and operational training programmes for library personnel and lack of a national information policy per se. Tanzania has a number of sectoral policies in place, related to information, technology and research. These "little sectoral policies" are fragmented and need a policy framework to provide the missing coordination. The study established that the number of skilled information staff in the national agricultural library system was small. Libraries and documentation centres in many agricultural institutions and research stations were poorly equipped and lacked professional trained staff. Furthermore, operational budgets were limited and hence lack of current and relevant library materials including Subscriptions to scientific journals. Contacts of agricultural information personnel with regional and international circuits on development were found limited. The study findings also revealed that the agricultural library information system in Tanzania was lacking in efficiency and effectiveness in meeting the diversified information needs of agriculturalists, particularly the research scientists. To this effect, where information was abundantly available, it was often inaccessible due to lack of technical know-how in documentation, organization and management for awareness of its availability to users. The study assumed that the global Information and Communication Technologies (lCTs) and current technological developments in the publishing industry could facilitate effective agricultural information organization and management, including repackaging of information for extension personnel and farmers, and resource sharing via electronic networking. However, the poor economic growth of Tanzania, as in other Less Developed Countries, has posed limitations to the full utilization of ICTs through lack of resources, policy guidelines and frameworks for the implementation of such policies. The study concluded that there has not been an effective and efficient implementation of policies, strategies and recommendations for access and use of agricultural information in Tanzania due to a number of problems, the main ones being: lack of awareness of the policies and strategies among the libraries, parent organizations and policy makers and lack of capacity of the libraries and documentation centres to implement the policies, strategies and recommendations. The study recommended that agricultural libraries and documentation centres in Tanzania be given priority in budget allocation for acquisition of basic equipment, such as photocopiers and microcomputers and for training library personnel at all levels. The more affluent libraries, such as the Sokoine National Agricultural Library and the Division of Research and Development library of the Ministry of agriculture, should audit their resources to determine the best ways to assist the documentation centres in remote research stations to organize and adequately present the required information to users. Agricultural libraries' managers and information specialists should become more assertive, focused, and committed in finding out about the policies and recommendations and eventually working out the requirements for their implementation and monitoring.