The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) recently convened a conference on ‘ict4ag – the digital springboard for inclusive agriculture.’ Held in Kigali, it brought together many innovations and experiences on the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to build trust and deliver targeted real time information in agriculture development. The LIVES knowledge management expert Fanos Mekonnen participated on behalf of the project.
Mobile applications (both for dumb and smart phones) are emerging as promising options to inform smallholder producers and provide market information and advisory services.Experiences such as iCow, esoko , Farmer line, and mkisan offer much to learn from.
Farmers use these applications to reach out to experts or to get market information, through SMS or voice mail. These tools and applications not only provide information; they develop capacity, create linkages and create inspiration to do and be more.
This event highlighted the complementarity of many ICT tools, disciplines and organizations (eg; use of web portal, telephone services, and GPS) to deliver required information on production and marketing; and the need for partnership with content providers and telecom service providers for increased efficiency, standardization, sustainability and reliability of content delivered.
ICTs have great potential – through easier access, wider coverage and simplicity – in easing the common challenges of development interventions: meeting urgent demands for results, going to scale and sustainability. However, ICTs on their own are nothing without an enabling environment and policy that supports the various services. Digital literacy, transparency and good governance are also essential.
E-extension, through the use of ICTs, is an area receiving greater interest by government and non-government organizations in developing countries. The situation is similar in Ethiopia, though it’s lagging behind, but is definitely on the right track. Government programs like ATA, ECX, and donor funded projects like LIVES, are piloting the use of ICTs for better extension service delivery and market information which consequently will contribute to increased productivity, better market value, lesser risk and increased nutrition. The recent initiative, M Birr, a mobile money service provision by five of the largest micro finance institution in Ethiopia is another worthy intervention.
LIVES will capitalize on experiences and lessons gained in this ICT4Ag meeting. Takeaway messages from this workshop include:
- the need to institutionalize communication for development in public extension services;
- the importance of content reliability and trustworthiness and the need to work in partnership with regulatory bodies;
- The need for re-packaging information so it can be used as ‘knowledge’;
- The need to work on the platform/processes as well as the content;
- The importance of ICTs to empower the youth.
In retrospect, the ICT4Ag brought many experiences and lessons. For us, who are just starting to dive in the use of these tools, it gave us an opportunity to learn from what’s out there and also create linkage for future collaboration and knowledge sharing. So much of the workshop content was revolving around use of mobile phones and various applications that facilitates two-way information. Superb! The role of other organizations and intermediaries in the process that are not directly delivering to farmers was less emphasized on the event. This however, does not mean they are less contributing. Project like LIVES mainly use ICTs like agriculture portal and e-book readers mainly to extension workers who are ultimately providing training and coaching for farmers.
View ILRI presentations at the event: