ICT and Knowledge Sharing in Agriculture

Wednesday 2nd July, 2:30 – 4:00, Committee Room 2

Chair: Lord Paul Boateng

As well as meeting in the aftermath of the ICT4Ag conference in Kigali, this seminar occurs in the aftermath of AU-EU Summit, which gave agriculture a prominent position and put a new emphasis in the relationship between Africa and Europe on science, technology and innovation. This creates a space to push the role of ICT within agriculture and development. The Summit also recognised the role of the private sector working in partnership with NGOs.

 

Dr Bruno Tran, NRI

  • ICTs are tools for development, which are extremely powerful both for farmers in developing countries and for practitioners working towards development.
  • Range of work that NRI has been involved in with ICTs: Communicating with people via radio programmes, internet based training modules, ways of capturing information with mobile phones and tablets, ways of working with beneficiaries in a participatory manner i.e. web cams.
  • NRI integrating ICT into programmes: 1) Use of SMS to broadcast information and gather information i.e. surveys. 2) Where internet access is intermittent, preference to use tablets with wifi connection so that data can be uploaded when in an area with wifi. 3) E-learning available via web-based platforms. Covers different levels of internet access.
  • Pilot project in Ghana where tablets are used to record real time information for quantity and quality of maize sold by farmers to agencies. Data available on the server from 24 purchase points in real time. Mobile charger.
  • Assessment of pilot: Technology was positive but there were Human Resource challenges – the skill available was not enough and the motivation not sufficient as it appeared to create additional work. Sustainability of project was not good enough and would have only worked with long-term support. Mixed report.
  • ICT4Ag conference in Kigali had three streams: Emerging innovation, Capacity Strengthening and Enabling Environments. 400 participants from all over world but mostly from Africa.

 

Dr Benjamin Addom, CTA

  • Social media, participatory GIS and youth engagement in ICTs and agriculture.
  • ICT4Ag conference looked at the past and future of ICTs for agriculture. Brought together stakeholders from private sector, governments, entrepreneurs and research institutes from both the technology and agriculture sectors.
  • ICT Applications for agriculture are developing quickly but most developers are not aware of what others are doing.
  • Farmer for Farmer knowledge sharing by Grameen Foundation in Uganda. A network of community knowledge workers who serve as ‘knowledge hubs’. Farmer representatives are trained and equipped with smart phones. Farmers collect data and share knowledge with other farmers.
  • Drivers: Growth of mobile technology in Africa, Infrastructure and private sector investment is key.
  • Learning: ICTs are playing a critical role in agriculture. ICTs offer great opportunities for sharing experiences and information on production, market, finance etc. New applications are developing at unprecedented speed but because of this there is large diversity, little coherence and many overlaps and gaps. Deployment of majority of apps is still at pilot stage. Uptake by smallholder farmers remains very low.
  • CTA is developing a Apps4Ag Database and developing a framework for assessing impact of ICT solutions.

 

Benny Dembitzer, Grassroots Africa

  • Grassroots Africa has set up a global Farmers’ Question Time: A farmer puts a question to the intermediary, the intermediary posts the question on the website, a practitioner posts an answer and there is an online discussion. Once a consensus answer is reached, it is passed back to the intermediary to pass back to the farmer. An email is sent to everyone who has registered interest in the subject.
  • Working principally via farmers in Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda. The aim is to reach the most marginal farmers, mostly women, who are illiterate and have no access to information.
  • Helping farmers through the internet and mobile devices with a wide range of intermediaries to ensure there are no gate-keepers to information.

 

Alvaro Valverde, Oxfam GB

  • Oxfam uses ICT4D in a range of programmes including humanitarian relief, agriculture and livelihoods, governance and health.
  • Conventional types of M-Agri services are 1) information services i.e. market information or weather forecasts, 2) value chain linkages i.e. farming trading platforms and 3) trading platforms and financial services i.e. mobile banking.
  • Other types of services: Farmer to farmer knowledge exchange benefiting in increase behaviour change.
  • Gender. Who might be left behind?
    1. Opportunities to address women’s time and mobility constraints, facilitate their access to relevant information, increase access to financial services for income generating, facilitate women’s participation in political processes, address power imbalances at the household and community levels and gather sex-disaggregated data in agriculture.
    2. However, challenges include financial constraints to buy mobile phones and pay for services, high levels of technological and language illiteracy, Cultural constraints can prevent women from accessing services, time poverty can prevent women from changing behaviours and access to information does not in itself promote behavioural change.
    3. Recommendations to use multiple delivery channels (e.g. mobiles, radio, face to face), to explore alternative business models for revenue generation, to involve women in the design of the service, do not look at ICT4Ag programmes in isolation (e.g. land rights, infrastructure, cooperative development) and peer-to-peer knowledge exchange for behavioural change.
  • Oxfam involved in a number of research programmes:
  1. ICTs and sustainable agriculture (The Princes Charities, Oxfam and GSMA): Is there a role for ICTs to support sustainable agriculture in Africa?
  2. M-Nutrition (funded by DFID and NORAN): Goal to improve nutrition levels of 3 million women and children as a result of behaviour change promoted by accessible mobile-based services delivered at scale through sustainable business models. Services in nutrition, health and agriculture.
  3. WE-Care in Malawi (funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation): Goals to develop a replicable ICT-enabled methodology for household Care Data collection to support women’s groups’ policy advocacy, understand linkages between care work, agriculture and nutrition to influence service design of the mNutrition programme and Replicate this methodology in other countries framed within the WE-Care Programme.

 

Discussion

  • Need to integrate the users throughout the programme in order to make the approach participatory and sustainable. Base level of knowledge required in order to use ICT.
  • Tablet technology too complex in practice.
  • Radio is a better form of ICT to reach the maximum number of people but the Grassroots Africa model, for example, is difficult to conduct without SMS technology. Language is a barrier.
  • ICTs are not a replacement for face-to-face interaction. To create behavioural change a space for discussion i.e. cooperatives are still important. ICTs are a tool and not the solution.
  • There is often a difference between what the farmer wants and what is being delivered.
  • Broadcast is a one-piece-of-information-for-everyone means of communicating but farmers are individuals in localities with unique circumstances and challenges and mobile technology can respond to this.

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