The social penetration of ICT tools and the key role youth are playing in the development of ICTs for agriculture are creating important opportunities in the sector.
On 19–22 November 2013, CTA organised a workshop in Arnhem, the Netherlands entitled ‘Supporting Youth ICT-based Entrepreneurship and Innovations in Agriculture’. The workshop, held in the context of the ARDYIS Project, featured 25 representatives from young farmer groups, regional and international organisations working with young farmers, youth ICT innovators and developers, and entrepreneurs.
The workshop was also held in the context of the implementation of ICT-related perspectives in CTA’s youth strategy for 2013–2017. Indeed, the increasing social penetration of ICT tools in recent years and the key role youth are playing in the development of ICT applications for agriculture offer important opportunities that CTA would like to tap into in order to boost the number of young people involved in agriculture.
Indeed, more social penetration means more opportunities to reach young people and encourage them to become involved in agriculture. Effective outreach is possible by means of web 2.0 tools such as Facebook and Twitter – platforms where young people often meet and interact.
If adequately supported, young people can develop and provide software and ICT platform services that target and enhance the agricultural sector. And young farmers can tap into new communication technologies – more so than previously – to reduce their transaction costs, improve business management and extend their access to markets.
The workshop in Arnhem discussed case studies of experiences that young people have gained in developing applications and software for use in the agricultural sector. One of these cases was MLouma, a web and mobile agribusiness created by a young entrepreneur named Aboubacar Sidy Sonko.. He entered a competition on social enterprise for Africa held by France Télécom in 2011, and his proposal earned him a place in the finals. With support from CTIC Dakar, the MLouma team then carried out research in the field in order to get a better understanding of farmers’ real needs and concerns.
Another case study was E-Market, an agricultural information system initiated by a group of young people and supported by the Farming and Technology for Africa association in Madagascar. This group was one of the winners of the Youth in Agriculture Blog Competition (YoBloCo Awards) organised by CTA in 2011. The cash prize that the group received was instrumental in getting the E-Market software off the ground. The group conducted business research to create the software and then began developing it. They are now encouraging the public and the farming community to test it.
The workshop ended by identifying two key recommendations. The first is to improve the use of ICTs by young ‘agropreneurs’. Following are the six most important ideas:
- identify national champions to promote initiatives on the use of ICTs by agropreneurs;
- conduct training sessions that teach agropreneurs about available ICT tools;
- document and publish success stories of young agropreneurs using ICTs;
- organise field visits to people already using ICT innovations in agriculture so this knowledge can be shard and replicated;
- organise high-impact campaigns aimed at changing patterns of behaviour; and
- engage the technology sector to develop agricultural-specific hardware that will help farmers and others in the value chain to gain more added value, benefits and profit.
The second recommendation is to generate support for the development of ICT applications by young people. Following are the six most important ideas:
- organise regional and national competitions on ICT4Ag, similar to the hackathon that was held at the ICT4Ag conference in Rwanda in November 2013;
- facilitate access to sources of funding to young developers;
- encourage the adoption of sound business models;
- organise regional ‘ICT for agriculture’ fellowships. These would promote mentoring and coaching partnerships to help young entrepreneurs get successful start-ups running so they can sell and market smart ICT solutions and services;
- develop and agri-app store that would feature and rank apps used in the value chain in ACP countries; and
- organise awareness-raising activities on agricultural issues for youth interested in develop software for agriculture.
In addition to these recommendations, there were several other takeaways for participants of the workshop. Most important perhaps is that they gained a better understanding of how ICT-based innovations and entrepreneurship work in the agricultural sector in ACP countries and what challenges young entrepreneurs face.