Today the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Agriculture and Food for Development launched their report 'Harnessing the potential: ICTs and Knowledge Sharing in Agriculture'. The report advocates that Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) have the potential to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in developing countries, offering great opportunities to increase their productivity, incomes and resilience.
Whilst less than 10% of farmers in Africa and South America have access to the internet, almost 90% have access to basic mobile technology, including SMS. This rapid increase in mobile communication enables farmers in even the most remote locations to receive timely and targeted agricultural advice bridging the information gap that conventional public extension services cannot span. In India only 6.8% of farmers get support from traditional extension services, and in Africa the average farmer to extension ratio is 4000:1. In this context, ICTs have the potential to be powerful tools in agriculture.
Through a series of seminars, the APPG heard that ICTs are already playing a critical role and are being utilised across the agricultural value chain offering access to information about inputs, agronomic practices, weather forecasts, pest control and the market as well as facilitating farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange. ICT applications are providing access to financial services, mobile banking, micro-credit and micro-insurance.
'ICTs are powerful tools with benefits that go beyond delivering and collecting information. However, ICTs are not a panacea. Significantly, the challenge of fulfilling the opportunities offered by ICTs includes realising them in an inclusive way. ICT4Agriculture is an area that is active, diverse and has the potential to deliver increasingly positive impacts for the lives and livelihoods of smallholder farmers.'
All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development
The 'Harnessing the Potential' Report highlights access to ICTs favours people depending on location, age, gender, education and income and that a 'digital divide' could further marginalise already isolated groups. The report stresses the crucial importance of incentivising investment in rural infrastructure development and addressing women's constraints to access the technology and act upon their services in order to ensure that the benefits of ICTs in agriculture are maximised and experienced equally.
The report also recommends that ICTs are linked to existing extensions services, including government-run programme, and that national governments are engaged in ICT4Agriculture programmes to promote a sense of ownership and to facilitate the development and approval of supporting policies.
The APPG emphasises that ICTs are a tool and not a solution and that all stakeholders, national governments, donors, the private sector and NGOs, have a role to play in harnessing and maximising their potential.
Lord Cameron of Dillington, Chair of the APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development, stated that, 'The real key to enhancing agriculture in the developing world is to have easy access to knowledge, training and market information. ICT is probably the best way to dispense this knowledge across the vast distances involved. But it requires considerable focus from both the public and private sector to ensure its potential for good is maximised. I hope this report will help achieve both that focus and the resultant good.'
The report can be accessed here.