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Digital springboard for inclusive agriculture

© Alamy/Benedicte Desrus

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.

Goodluck, a 35-year-old farmer who lives near the town of Maseno in Western Kenya wakes up in the morning and switches on his smartphone to check the weather forecast, the day’s market prices for his crops and any announcements from the authorities that might be important for his business and his cooperative. Just before leaving for his farm, he suddenly remembers that he had heard about a new pest outbreak in the area on the radio the previous night. He wanted to talk to his input supplier, Kahilu, about it later in the day and sends him a quick SMS to arrange for a meeting. He also reminds himself that he should get in touch with the farmers’ helpline to find out if they have any update on the pest outbreak.

After scanning the bar code on his cows’ ears and sending the data to the national disease surveillance system, Goodluck opens his Facebook to see if there is any news from the farmers’ federation which he is a member of. At the farmers’ federation, Emily is responsible for communication and social media. She has just posted a message on Facebook promoting the video on poultry farming that she uploaded on YouTube the day before. Emily is a member of various e-discussion lists and knowledge management portals where she has posted well-crafted messages. To ensure maximum visibility for the video, she has çarefully bookmarked the video, sent out several tweets - many of which have been re-tweeted - and made links to additional informative materials she found on the AgResearch portal. She was pleased that her effort was paying off as several people have left encouraging messages about the video on her Facebook page. She is also eager to make sure that the farmers messages calling for support to local poultry production reach the policy makers. In passing she notices a new tweet by the minister of agriculture on the value of computers for rural communities. She wonders if she should post him a message – he seems to want to hear from people like her.

From consumers to producers

This hypothetical example shows a picture of the new Africa. The digital revolution is transforming peoples’ lives, both rural and urban. The way they work, socialize and network, how they look for and share information and the manner in which they conduct their daily businesses, have changed dramatically. Africa’s mobile telecoms sector is growing at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world. Mobile devices are transforming markets. Increased access to data networks and the internet, constant innovation, ease of use and decreasing costs are fuelling this growth and opening up a new world of information to millions of people.

Web- and mobile-based technologies that support interactive dialogue and multimedia communication - commonly referred to as social media - have led to substantial change in how individuals, communities and organisations communicate.

With social media, the way knowledge is generated and shared has also changed dramatically. Knowledge is getting sourced from crowds and not just experts. Static data has been revitalised with the advent of instant visualisations and infographics, portraying the issues more attractively and grabbing the viewer’s attention. Groups of agriculturalists are coming together, working on common problems, interests and aspirations. They are collaborating online to generate thematic maps and online applications to monitor events, track commodity prices or the spread of pests and diseases.

iCow, MFarm, Esoko and other successful initiatives demonstrate that rural entrepreneurs cannot afford to miss out on the opportunities that the digital revolution offers. Equally, any government serious about boosting food production need to stay up-to-date with the latest developments and enabling policies, if only to keep up with its farmers. Moreover, if we are to transform agriculture in Africa to ensure food security and drive economic growth, we must take full advantage of ICTs to boost entire value chains.

Empowering the agricultural sector

CTA is using the ICT4Ag conference to showcase how ICTs are truly empowering agricultural producers, processors, traders and other actors in the value chain. Indeed, ICTs are a springboard to opportunities, giving a voice to the voiceless and leaving no smallholder behind. Our conference will explore the exciting possibilities and rapid developments taking place in this field (see box).

More than 400 people will be attending the conference to discuss issues under three themes (see pages 9–11 for more details):

  • Emerging innovations in ICTs supporting agricultural rural development
  • Capacity strengthening and stakeholder empowerment for improved engagement in ARD and in related policy processes
  • Enabling environment for the agricultural sector to maximise benefits from ICTs.

The first stream on emerging innovations will include topics such as: the identification of mobile and ICT solutions, apps and innovations; the changing architecture of agricultural extension and rural advisory services in the age of ICTs and mobile technologies; and the use of ICTs to enhance and monitor agricultural processes, boost access to markets and facilitate agribusiness.

The second stream on capacity strengthening and stakeholder empowerment looks at ICTs as enablers of communication and the exchange of information and resources among value chain actors; the empowerment of the youth through ICTs for efficient and effective ARD; and gender mainstreaming through ICTs for efficient and effective ARD activities. There will be contributions that examine capacity building models and approaches and how we can monitor the impacts of ICTs on ARD projects and programmes.

The third stream on enabling environments will look at agricultural policies, ICT policies, e-agriculture policies and their accompanying strategies. It will also discuss ICT and facility infrastructure, such as electricity, markets and roads, and explore multistakeholder and public-private partnerships and some of the new technologies and business models being developed to improve access to ICTs. I look forward to welcoming those of you who will be at this exciting event and hearing from those of you who participate remotely. We will publish some of the outcomes of the conference in the next issue of ICT Update in December 2013.

© Alamy/Benedicte Desrus

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Interview with Eric White, managing associate and lead economist at Integra LLC, a Washington DC based international development firm specialising in ICT policy and applications. The firm implements USAID’s Global Broadband and Innovations programme.

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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.

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Women and Digitalisation in Agriculture

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