This paper provides a snapshot of agriculture solutions that are emerging through information and communication technologies. It describes how these solutions are beginning to be used to fight hunger, reduce poverty, advance education, protect the environment and improve health.
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New ways of using IT technologies and communication systems are transforming lives across the world. There had been concerns that the digital divide was creating wider gaps between the haves and have-nots. If this was the case 10 years ago, the recent changes in mobile subscriptions alone have significantly closed that gap. Mobile services are a reality in virtually all corners of the world. For many millions of smallholder farmers and traders, mobiles phones have become an essential “tool of the trade,” strengthening existing business ties and opening up new opportunities with huge reductions in transaction times and cost.
This paper asks “How is information and communication technology (ICT) being used in agricultural development?” It outlines, using case study examples, how ICT applications for the agriculture sector range from the highly sophisticated, fully integrated chain-wide agri-business service packages used by the most commercial farmers, down to basic voice and text messaging that is being used very effectively by less resourced smallholder farmers and traders for all stages of the food production process: harvesting, processing, logistics to sales and marketing. To take advantage of this marketplace, the private sector, NGOs and governments are investing in a range of new tools to link farmers with assets, services and markets.
Five years ago, most ICT services for agriculture were confined to the top segment of farmers. The rapid rise in ICT technologies is now spreading into the smallholder agriculture sector and being used by a growing number of agricultural companies, development organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and farmers.
Despite the massive uptake of mobile phones by agricultural producers, there are few quantitative studies that provide hard evidence of a link between technology and poverty reduction. Those studies that have explored this, however, found that farmer access to market information through radio, mobile phones and internet resulted in higher farm-gate prices and a better bargaining position with local traders.
To make good on the promise of ICT transformation, however, organizations from the public and private sectors will need to create new types of partnerships and business networks with the millions of smallholder farmers in the developing world. Some general recommendations for ensuring these technologies contribute to sustainable and equitable development include:
- Promote investment policies that give communications companies incentives to cross subsidize investments from higher profit areas to expand infrastructure into less commercial rural areas.
- Support income levies within the commercial communications markets so that a percentage of profit is made available for public goods services.
- In more remote areas, combine wireless technologies with electrical power sources that can be used by communities to support other vital sectors, such as health and education.
- Promote and support the development of content in local languages to improve the accessibility and inclusiveness of ICT applications.
- Support adult literacy and numeracy programs in rural areas to expand access and use of ICT-based services to low income, more marginal areas.
- Promote and facilitate the establishment of broad public–private partnerships in the implementation of projects that support both public services and less commercial areas.
- Promote use of, and investment in, open source technology, so that developers and users are not constrained by licensing issues.
Author: Shaun Ferris
Publisher: International Institute for Environment and Development (February 2012)
Booklet: 36 pages
Dimensions: 6.89 x 9.45 inches
Updated January 16, 2013