Agriculture is the largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for the majority of the world’s poorest people. As the backbone of many developing country economies, agricultural development becomes synonymous with global development. Research and development efforts to improve agriculture have been ongoing for nearly a century, but with new and ever-changing global challenges, agriculturists need to be equipped with the right information to tackle those challenges. Through advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs), most of the information needed is available on the internet. But the sheer volume and uncertainty about accuracy makes getting correct and credible information very difficult. Web portals aim to resolve this situation. They are specially designed single access points to information collected from diverse sources.
In the context of agricultural extension and advisory services (EAS), there are two predominant types of portals – those providing technical and market knowledge to end users at the grassroots level, and those helping with capacity development of extension personnel. Knowledge portals (www.knowledgebank.irri.org, www.rkmp.co.in), e-Extension portals (www.eXtension.org, www.agritech. tnau.ac.in, www.e-agriculture.gov.gh), video-based portals (www.accessagriculture.org, www.digitalgreen.org), market information portals (www.agmarknet.nic.in), information portals for rural people (www.vikaspedia.in), and institutional portals for extension and advisory services (www.nafis.go.ke, www.kilimo.go.ke) fall into the former category. Portals like Agricultural Extension in South Asia (AESA) (http://www.aesa-gfras.net) and Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS) (http://www.meas-extension.org) contain numerous resources and tools to enable knowledge sharing and networking among service stakeholders, and fall into the latter category.
Philosophy and principles
Web portals are digital platforms that provide organised gateways to information or act as aggregators of knowledge from various stakeholders. Hosting portals to meet the needs of farmers, extensionists, and other EAS actors needs to be well-thought-out. Some principles of hosting web portals are:
- Usability and utility: The portal should be user-friendly to non-experts in information technology (IT). The information provided should be relevant and of high utility to potential users. Local language or multiple language display options also help.
- Content organisation: Enhance the user experience by presenting the content in a form that is easily understandable, navigable, and searchable, in addition to being visually appealing.
- Flexibility: The web portal needs to be flexible in design so that new features can be added when needed without major disturbance to the configuration.
- Structure: The structure of the content should be well-defined and in a definite pattern to make access and navigation easier. The site navigation should be easy to locate.
- Site display: The portal should preferably work and display consistently across all browsers and devices.
- Visualisation: Visualisation of the content repositories can reduce information overload and the time needed to retrieve information.
- Customisation: Allowing users to customise the portal to meet their specific needs can increase user satisfaction and efficiency of use. But, for novice users, the majority of information should be displayed in easy to access links.
- Content Management System (CMS): A CMS enables interactivity so that users can easily upload and update content, which helps increase the repository of information. (1)Features like discussion forums, opinion polls, page rating, live search, surveys, feedback form, and so on encourage interactivity.Glendenning, C.J. and Ficarelli, P.P. 2011. Content development and management processes of ICT initiatives in Indian agriculture. Information Development 27(4): 301–314.
- Broad-based information: Varied information related to all aspects of rural life, with multimedia content support, helps make the information easy to understand.