“Building on how the communications revolution could transform the lives of
hundreds of millions of farmers in developing countries
is one of the great opportunities of our times”
Micheal Haillu – Director CTA, 2014
Information and Communication Technologies play a vital role in dissemination of information to farmers. ICT tools are also essential in harnessing and capturing local farmer knowledge. Innovative use of ICT tools recognize the importance of two-way communication and can be used more efficiently to achieve the goals of agricultural extension. Beyond connectivity they offer security and mobility to owners and require basic literacy. In addition to voice communication they allow for transfer of data which can be used in context for applications and in agriculture. In Kenya, a study conducted to understand the actual usage of mobile services, products, and applications at the Base of the Pyramid found out that over 60% of the respondents among the Kenyan BoP own a mobile phone, but very few used the applications other than for M-PESA.
‘What needs to be done in order to ensure that ICTs fulfil their potential?
Different empirical studies have shown that knowledge cannot easily reach farmers through the traditional extension systems and development projects. In response, new way of managing knowledge have emerged across developing countries beyond the traditional farmer-extension systems. The challenge on the use of ICTs and small holder agriculture in Africa is no longer hampered by access or ownership to basic ICT tools like the mobile phone at the household level as it was ten years ago. The challenge is in the social processes used to transmit and tracking the knowledge pathways within social networks. Knowledge and social processes are part of knowledge systems in societies. Knowledge initially exists in the mind of an individual and is transmitted through social groups, networks and practice. To enable replication of practices and spread of knowledge, pathways that facilitate the flow of information are created and supported through transmission channels. In Africa, community meetings, evening drinking joints and water collection points especially for women are very good sources of knowledge and information. The advantage of using these ICTs tools in agricultural extension therefore becomes important as they share the same characteristics as the traditional oral cultures of knowledge transmission within our social systems where interpersonal communication is considered most trustworthy depending on the source.
What therefore are the social implications?
For any innovation to have a developmental impact, social mobilization of communities have to take place through the known community channels of transmission of information. In traditional African societies, we have the community gate keepers, the elders, elected leaders, opinion and religious leaders. For any innovation to take root, it has to pass through these channels. Indeed several key note speakers during ISTAS, 2015 highlighted the relationship between technology, development and the role of innovation in this process. Key to note was that unless technological developments were transferred to users and the role of social mobilizations of communities emphasized, the technologies that were being developed would have minimal impact. The President of Ireland, speaking at the opening event further emphasized that innovation and development should be delivered within the context of social justice. Scientific research and technological development was increasingly playing an important role in our societies. Within that context, Ireland was increasing support for research and extension especially for poor farmers and specifically women farmers. And this was in line with the Sustainable Development goals.
Therefore much as the primary goal of acquiring a radio, a phone or a television set at the household level is normally for communication, entertainment and keeping abreast with current events, the roles of these tools have a much wider social and economic implications in moving forward innovations and agricultural development. ICT tools are increasingly being conceptualized as social rather than economic tools, their application in the development process involves both people led processes as well as networks.
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CTA, 2014. ICTs for Agriculture making it happen. Kigali, Rwanda.
Duncombe R., (2012). Mobile Phones for Agricultural and Rural Development: A
Literature review and Future Research directions. Paper 50. Development Informatics.
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Elder L. & Rashid A.T (2009). Mobile phones and Development: an analysis of IDRC supported
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ISTAS 2015. IEEE International symposium on Technology and Society, Dublin Ireland
About the Author
Janet works in the ICT4Development and Agriculture extension field. The Author’s professional focus is on the use of innovative ICTs in economic and social development. She is involved in the mentorship of young women and is passionate about gender issues in development.