ICTs are powerful tools for accessing information, facilitating communication, improving decision making and improving the outreach development programmes. However, to achieve their full potential impact ICT solutions need to be integrated into daily operations.
ICTs can strengthen the capacity of individuals, organisations and institutions in different ways. They can act as tools for accessing information and facilitating communication, improving informed decision making on the part of individual farmers and farming communities. They can also provide solutions to improve the effectiveness and outreach of organisations working to support the agricultural sector. Unfortunately, there are many examples of ICT solutions with real potential to address critical agricultural needs and opportunities that did not strengthen – as hoped – farming communities’ capacity to enhance household incomes and improve quality of life. This raises a key question: can ICTs really help to enhance the capacity of individuals and organisations working in agriculture to improve their positions and income? And if so, how?
Change agents working in ICT-for-agriculture, however, know that for ICT solutions to be effectively integrated into daily operations and be used to achieve the desired actions and outcomes, two crucial angles need to be explored:
- individuals and farming communities need to acquire new skills to be able to access, filter and transform new information into meaningful knowledge, and
- key organisations with extensive institutional relationships in the agricultural sector need to create an environment in which there is ample, affordable access to ICTs supported by policies, laws and social standards that encourage to use the opportunities that ICTs provide.
Perhaps most importantly, capacity building efforts that accompany the design, introduction and uptake of ICT solutions and services – if done correctly – contribute significantly to how individual farmers and professionals working in agricultural services perceive their ability to influence decisions and create change. This new outlook, in turn, increases their self-confidence and their motivation to improve their own functioning as well as that of the organisations they work in.
Individuals in farming communities and professionals working in agriculture-related organisations often say that they experience a sense of empowerment when they discover that ICTs enable access to learning opportunities, that illiteracy, that low levels of formal education are not necessarily barriers to acquiring new knowledge or exchanging knowledge with others, and that new forms of networking and community building reduce a sense of isolation. This greater sense of opportunity and choice is a powerful psychological resource and a key factor for influencing people’s capability to shape their own life.
Value chain development relies heavily on how different actors in the agricultural sector interact in their institutional environments and on their capability to represent and communicate their interests. The outcome of several interventions in value chain development in recent years shows that bottom-up approaches - with inexperienced farmer organisations - unfortunately are often only marginally successful, while the involvement of experienced private firms and large farms can tribute to success. These interventions, however, did not specifically show that vulnerable smallholder farmers, especially women, benefitted from them.
The international development community, and specifically the ICT-for- agriculture community, now needs to explore how, and under which conditions, the use of ICTs can help inexperienced farmer organisations become stronger, more reliable players in the value chain. After all, these organisations are often the ones that organise and represent vulnerable smallholder farmers. Increase the incomes of large groups of smallholder farmers and providing them with long-term social benefits can only be achieved by enhancing the operational effectiveness and outreach of these organisations and increasing the number of individual and organised farmers that takes part in value chains.
Another key area that needs to be addressed is improving the position of women in value chains – especially smallholder women farmers and primary processors. Here too, ICTs can be used to enhance the production and marketing of typical ‘women’s products’ or to create non-traditional work opportunities for women. It would be useful to review what has worked well and what has failed in efforts to get women, men, youth and the elderly to use ICTs, and which capacity building strategies work best for particular groups of individuals. The findings should encourage change in the agricultural sector and promote the growth of gender-inclusive agricultural enterprises.
The ‘Capacity strengthening and stakeholder empowerment’ stream at the ICT4Ag conference in Kigali, Rwanda will provide an opportunity to explore, and hopefully answer, many of the questions that emerge from the field. With so much experience in the room, we hope to identify strategies and approaches for introducing and using ICT-enabled solutions that have a proven track record and have stood the test of time. Think, for example, of empowering individuals and grassroots organisations, improving the position of women and motivating young people to engage in profitable farming activities.
The individual sessions in this stream will explore the role that ICTs can play in improving and strengthening an organisation’s internal capacity to achieve its goals and mission. They will attempt to discover which factors, approaches and activities are critical for success, which obstacles have been encountered, how they have been overcome and which previously held assumptions have been proven wrong. The conference will bring together practitioners, support organisations, policy makers and technologists in a unique opportunity to review past experiences and identify approaches and ideas that have high potential to solve remaining impediments to positive change.
by Michael Hailu
CTA uses the conference to showcase how ICTs are empowering agricultural producers, processors, traders. This issue presents an overview of ICT applications in agriculture on the occasion of the CTA-sponsored conference on ICT4Ag held in Kigali, Rwanda on 4–8 November 2013.Read More
by Saskia Harmsen and Espérance Mukarugwiza
ICTs are powerful tools for accessing information, facilitating communication, improving decision making and improving the outreach development programmes. However, to achieve their full potential impact ICT solutions need to be integrated into daily operations.Read More
by Ifidon Ohiomoba
ACP agriculture is yet to benefit fully from the potential of ICTs. New approaches are needed to ensure the systematic use of ICT solutions, and to create an enabling environment in which ICTs could enhance the impact of agricultural development programmes.Read More
by Benjamin Addom and David Rurangirwa
The conference will help to address the ‘inclusive’ component of ICT4Ag, or the idea that no one will be left out. It is imperative that emerging innovations support rather than exclude stakeholders in the agricultural sector.Read More
by Lee H. Babcock
Interview with By Lee Babcock, managing director of the mobile strategy unit at ACDI/VOCA, an economic development organisation based in Washington, DC in the United States. ACDI/VOCA is dedicated to promoting economic opportunities for cooperatives, enterprises and communities through the innovative application of sound business practice.Read More
by Dorothy Okello
Interview with Dorothy Okello, senior lecturer with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. She is the founder the WOUGNET, the Women of Uganda Network. Established in 2000, the network’s mission is to promote and support the use of ICTs by women and women organisations in Uganda.Read More