ICTs - transforming agricultural extension?
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CTA. 2003. ICTs - transforming agricultural extension?. ICT Update Issue 14. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57641
6th Consultative Expert Meeting of CTA´s Observatory on ICTs CTA, Wageningen, the Netherlands 23 - 25 September 2003
Background Resources http://ictupdate.cta.int/index.php/filemanager/download/44/full_programme.pdf Programme http://ictupdate.cta.int/index.php/filemanager/download/45/Participants_list.pdf Participants http://ictupdate.cta.int/index.php/filemanager/list/10/ E-consultations http://ictupdate.cta.int/index.php/filemanager/list/11/ Keynote papers http://ictupdate.cta.int/index.php/filemanager/list/12/ Regional overviews http://ictupdate.cta.int/index.php/filemanager/list/13/ Country case studies http://ictupdate.cta.int/index.php/filemanager/list/14/ Technical case studies http://ictupdate.cta.int/index.php/filemanager/list/16/ Neuchâtel Initiative On 23 - 25 September 2003, CTA held a workshop under the auspices of its Observatory on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for ACP agricultural and rural development. This meeting, entitled "ICTs - transforming agricultural extension?", convened ACP and EU experts in the field of ICT policies and applications relevant to extension for agricultural and rural development in ACP countries. Why focus on agricultural extension? Recent years have seen an increase in the use of ICTs in almost all spheres of rural lives in ACP countries, despite persisting problems of access, connectivity, literacy, content, and costs. This development of communications infrastructure, especially in the area of telecommunications, brings with it both opportunities and challenges. Agricultural extension, which depends to a large extent on information exchange between and among farmers on the one hand, and a broad range of other actors (see below) on the other hand, has been identified as one area in which ICTs can have a particularly significant impact. Extension agents (whether public servants, private input providers or NGO staff) as intermediaries between farmers and other actors in the agricultural knowledge and information system, are especially well-placed to make use of ICTs to access expert knowledge or other types of information - but in doing so, they might contribute to making their own function and jobs obsolete. In the context of changing paradigms in agricultural extension, where linear information flows are being replaced by pluralistic information flows and new actors are emerging to form "community information spaces", farmers will become more and more able to access any information they need on their own. This development is enhanced by the growing availability and accessibility of modern ICTs. The role of the traditional intermediary is vanishing as all actors within the community take on intermediating functions. This has profound implications on the information products and services required by the various actors, and on the capacities and skills that these actors need in order to bridge the communication gap for information sharing and exchange between the different actors in the agricultural knowledge and information system. New actors in agricultural extensionfactbox Background of the ICT Observatory CTA´s ICT Observatory was created in 1998 to study and monitor suitable technologies for use in information and communication management. The main objectives of the Observatory are to: identify and indicate key ICT issues and strategies relevant to ACP agricultural development and natural resources management; improve the common pool of knowledge and expertise available in this area; identify relevant projects and expertise that could assist in defining strategies; provide a mechanism for monitoring technical developments which can benefit those working in agriculture, rural development and natural resources management. Observatory meetings have been held on an annual basis since 1999. The first meeting discussed the role of the Observatory itself. In 2000, an ICT strategy for CTA was developed, and the meeting in 2001 looked at technologies for wireless access to the Internet via satellite. In 2002, CTA for the first time chose a development topic as the focus of the annual Observatory meeting: "Gender and agriculture in the information society." The 2003 Observatory meeting continued this trend by looking at how ICTs can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of pro-poor agricultural extension./factbox - light work or spoiled broth? In the context of decentralization of government structures and privatization of agricultural extension services in many countries, along with changing paradigms in agricultural extension itself (from top-down to bottom-up and more diversity in service providers), the number of actors has greatly increased, to include the following: Farmers and their associations NGOs/CSOs The media Private companies (input suppliers; brokers/traders; telecentres) The formal (government) extension system National agricultural research organisations Universities Intern./research organisations Donors Think tanks and networks at various levels The political environment (local, national, regional, international governance structures, conventions, treaties, etc.) This multitude of actors requires effective and efficient information flows and communication between all levels. Linear information flows that dominated the traditional model of technology transfer from the formal research system to the farmers by way of the formal, government-owned extension system, are being replaced by pluralistic information flows between farmers as the demanders of services, and various providers of these services. These information flows can be enhanced through the use of ICTs - but probably to a different extent at different levels in the system, as different actors have different kinds of information needs and communication problems, and different access to ICTs. The potential of ICTs for improving information flows will vary greatly between different countries and regions. A case-by-case analysis is necessary, but there may be some common principles that can be identified, and a common framework that can be developed. ICTs in agricultural extension - a threat to the existing system, or born out of necessity because there is no longer any system? In the context of structural adjustment, the State has in many countries reduced its direct involvement in agricultural services provision. Thus, ICTs may be the only way in which farmers can find answers to their questions. The trend towards a greater use of ICTs would thus reflect a real need for alternative sources of information, rather than a technology-driven, donor-promoted development. Giving farmers access to a variety of information sources, which are accessible, affordable, relevant and reliable is the ultimate aim of providing agricultural information services.