Many African countries have developed national e-governance, e-health and e-education strategies, yet many still lack an e-agriculture strategy. One exception is Ivory Coast, which has just started to develop an e-agriculture strategy.
Many national and international policy debates across the world present ICTs as a major driver for economic growth. The US economy is often cited as an example. The country showed strong growth in the early 2000s, which coincided with the rapid expansion of the internet and mobile phone networks, and the emergence of many online services that could be accessed through these networks. It is now generally accepted that ICTs and online services enhance economic growth, good governance, job creation and the dissemination of knowledge. Indeed, a 2009 report by McKinsey & Company, Broadband for the Masses, suggests that a 10% increase in internet penetration may cause GDP to grow by at least one percentage point. Even though this correlation strongly depends on the influence of other conditions, it recalls the importance of strategically leveraging ICT for development (ICT4D) in developing countries.
In the late 1990s, the African Information Society Initiative, launched by the UN Economic Commission for Africa, created the National Information and Communications Infrastructure, which outlined a country-by-country planning process for national ICT policy development. The process promoted Africa’s inclusion in the digital and global economy, and provided a policy framework for integrating ICTs into national development strategies.
Generating more interest
The pioneering National Information and Communications Infrastructure processes generated comprehensive national ICT4D policy plans in many African countries. Increasingly, sector-specific strategies for e-government, e-education and e-health are being put in place. The policy processes for developing national e-agriculture or ICT for rural development strategies have also been set into motion in some countries, but little progress has been made so far. This is not to suggest that no ICT for agriculture (ICT4ag) initiatives are being undertaken, but they are scattered projects, which sometimes duplicate efforts, leaving key segments or issues of agriculture unaddressed.
The case of Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast is one of the countries in Africa which recently started to develop a comprehensive e-agriculture strategy. In June 2013, a meeting took place in Agboville, Ivory Coast, convened by the country’s minister of agriculture, Sangafowa Coulibaly, and the minister of post, information and communication technologies, Bruno Nabagne Kone. The seminar focused on setting priority actions and projects within the framework outlined in Ivory Coast’s national e-agriculture strategy document, which was validated in late 2012.
To backtrack, in 2000, in anticipation of the arrival of the first submarine fibre optic cable SAT3 that would connect Ivory Coast to the global data communication networks, the country’s government adopted its National Information and Communications Infrastructure plan, which outlined its national ICT strategy. Since then Ivory Coast has established connections via three other high-capacity submarine cables, in 2011 and 2012.
These developments are in line with the government’s decision to modernise the country’s agricultural sector and enhance its productivity. These measures were considered necessary to increase the country’s income from the export of cocoa, coffee and other produce, and to decrease its dependence on food imports, which have the added benefit of strengthening its national food security.
With widespread connectivity to global markets and networks, the government decided that ICTs were a credible way of achieving its goals and decided to develop a national e-agricultural strategy. It had to correspond to the government’s larger ambition to see Ivory Coast attain the status of emerging nation by 2020.
The minister of agriculture and the minister of post, information and communication technologies in Ivory Coast were put in joint charge of developing this e-agricultural strategy. They appointed an interdepartmental committee of experts and instructed them to formulate and implement a national strategy for using ICTs to develop and modernise Ivory Coast’s agricultural sector, and promote good governance in the sector.
More specifically the committee was to develop an e-agricultural strategy that would ensure the creation of a modern ICT infrastructure for the agricultural sector, a legal and institutional framework for the use of ICTs and comprehensive real-time, multipurpose agricultural information services. In addition the strategy would have to ensure that farmers and all other people involved in this modernised agricultural sector, particularly young people, would have adequate access to the information services and receive training to learn how to use them.
A balanced, home-grown strategy
The committee of experts adopted an impressive participatory approach to the development of this e-agricultural strategy by involving a wide range of stakeholders in their work. They consulted and sought advice from their colleagues in other governmental departments at the national, regional and sub-regional levels. They also approached representatives from different divisions in the Conseil du Café-Cacao, the professional organisations affiliated with the Association Nationale des Organisations Professionelles Agricoles de Côte d’Ivoire and the 2,000 cooperatives of producers of cacao, coffee, cotton, banana, pineapple, cashew, rubber and animal products representing several million members.
The committee also sought advice from ICT4D experts and various agricultural educational and research institutes and other professional organisations serving the agricultural sector. They also consulted sector strategy plans for e-government, cyber security, e-education and e-health as well as the national ICT4D strategy document. And last but not least, they examined current agricultural policy plans, such as Le Plan Directeur de Développement Agricole Ivoirien 1992–2015, Le Programme National d’Investissement Agricole 1992–2015, and documents from the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (promoted by the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development), the Regional Agricultural Policy for West Africa and the national Poverty Reduction Strategy Document.
All these detailed analyses of plans and strategies ensured that their e-agriculture strategy would be aligned with current ones for other sectors and that it would build on their plans and achievements rather than duplicate their efforts. The result of these consultations and research is a balanced, home-grown national e-agricultural strategy that focuses primarily on key interdependent areas:
- ICT infrastructure and equipment;agricultural market information system;
- applications and services tailored to the agricultural world;
- a legal and institutional framework;
- ICT capacity building programme;
- agricultural information system; and
- national communication system for the ministry of agriculture.
This comprehensive national e-agricultural strategy document was the subject of a previous validation seminar organised by the ministers of agriculture and post, information and communication technologies in November 2012. The seminar held in June 2013 was a final step in an extended process of studying plans and deliberating with the many stakeholders in the national e-agriculture strategy.
Seven strategic axes
The e-agriculture strategy is held together by seven strategic axes. They represent an ambitious effort to modernise Ivory Coast’s agricultural sector and develop good governance in the sector. A key element of this effort is to build a robust ICT infrastructure in rural areas. This requires a reliable energy supply throughout the country, from hydroelectric or alternative sources. Moreover, the main agricultural institutions need to be equipped with relevant ICT hardware and have good internet access, while their staff need to be trained to use and maintain the equipment.
The strategy also calls for a main data centre and many community multimedia centres as part of the ICT infrastructure package. This package will use a new generation of market information systems that make real-time information available via mobile phones and tablets. The technology will also be used to upgrade existing marketing information systems, such as the Office de Commercialisation des Produits Vivriers, responsible for marketing food crops.
This part of the strategy also intends to improve the market information systems of ANADER, an agency that provides rural development extension services, and other organisations that provide market information on livestock. Agricultural ICT services and applications targeting specific activities will be acquired or developed as well when needed, such as alert systems and portals.
Stakeholders consulted during the development of the strategy have expressed their wish for an enabling legal framework that favours the adequate use of ICT in agriculture, such as electronic translation. Although this specific item was already part of the framework for the national ICT policy, a separate decree may be adopted to include it in the e-agriculture strategy.
Finally, various capacity building initiatives will ensure that all agricultural stakeholders have basic ICT skills. This includes farmers other stakeholders in rural areas, and government officials working in the agricultural sector. The strategy will explore ways of using ICTs to improve literacy and integrating ICTs into agricultural training and training institutions.
The strategy aims to strengthen and coordinate various national agricultural information systems. Better coordination will improve the governance of the various chains of the sector and the communication between the Ministry of Agriculture and other stakeholders. Better communication will ultimately improve the exchange of knowledge and collaboration between all the other private and public institutions that work in the sector.
An example for other countries
Ivory Coast’s decision to develop an e-agriculture strategy is a first step towards modernising its agricultural sector. The strategy is holistic: it covers a range of agricultural activities and is aligned with e-strategies in other sectors. Implementing policy documents remains a challenge, however. The number and types of initiatives prioritised by the various stakeholders consulted during the meeting in Agboville in June 2013 require substantial funding.
It is therefore encouraging that partners such as the World Bank, the China Great Wall Industry Corporation and some national private-sector organisations from Ivory Coast have offered their assistance in implementing the e-agricultural strategy. The goals of the strategy are important and the Ivory Coast government is counting on all interested partners to do their share.
The Ivory Coast government has used an inclusive, multistakeholder approach to develop its e-agriculture strategy. The collaboration in Ivory Coast between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Post, Information and Communication Technologies is rare in Africa, where collaboration on ICT4ag policy has been decidedly weak. The increasing penetration, and lower cost of mobile phones and better internet connectivity, will certainly accelerate the deployment of e-agriculture projects and strategies in Africa.
African countries with e-agriculture strategies
Only a handful of countries have launched initiatives to develop e-agriculture strategies.
- Ghana: The Ghana ICTs in Agriculture Implementation Strategy was developed in 2005. It is unclear whether this strategy has actually been implemented.
- Ivory Coast: Ivory Coast recently developed a comprehensive national e-agriculture strategy.
- Rwanda: Rwanda is currently formulating its Strategic Plan for Agricultural Transformation, a national plan to integrate ICTs into agriculture and natural resource management programmes across the country.
- Mali and Burkina Faso: Together with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, these two countries are developing a cyber strategy for agricultural and rural development.
Source: CTA, Benjamin Addom, (2013) e-Agriculture Policies and Strategies in ACP Countries, background report in preparation of the 2013 ICT Observatory, CTA Wageningen.
Ken Lohento ( email@example.com) is ICT4D programme coordinator at CTA.
Mark Speer ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of ICT Update.
With contributions from Noël Kouable (email@example.com), technical advisor in charge of the OCPV Market Information System, Ivory Coast.