ICTs are shaping the future of ACP agriculture
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CTA. 2004. ICTs are shaping the future of ACP agriculture. ICT Update Issue 18. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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Carl B. Greenidge explains that policy makers should encourage the use of ICTs, and make the identification of promising applications part of their daily routines.
Technology pundits have proven time and again to be poor at predicting actual uses of ICTs, as their utilitarian views are often superseded by the creativity of ICT users. In the mid-1990s, for instance, forecasters predicted a glut in throughput capacities of international telecommunication networks and expected that telecommunication costs would come down to almost zero by 2005. This scenario caught the attention of the international development community and provided the basis for many international and regional policies to connect ACP countries - via the Internet - to global markets and to international knowledge networks. However, in spite of enormous international efforts, Internet access in 2004 is still very limited in most ACP countries, especially in the rural areas. Also, the costs of access have remained excessively high, inhibiting any use of the Internet other than for sending and receiving email. In spite of continued connectivity restrictions, agricultural practitioners and researchers in ACP countries have not stood still. They have begun to pioneer ICTs other than those based on Internet technologies. For example, market information service providers in Senegal decided to utilize the opportunity provided by the rapid proliferation of mobile phones. They now offer ´multi-modal´ mobile phone services that provide farmers and traders with the latest market price information. Researchers in Kenya are using satellite imagery and geographic information systems (GIS) to predict outbreaks of insect pests. Further afield, representatives of a microfinance institution in Ecuador are using hand-held computers (or personal digital assistants) to process loan applications during visits to remote villages. Some practitioners have also developed systems consisting of multiple ICTs integrated into one application. For example, together with pastoralists in the Sahel, these practitioners have developed practical ways to apply GIS-based maps, hand-held global positioning system (GPS) devices and mobile phones to manage the movements of cattle in order to minimize overgrazing. These and many other appropriate ICT applications - conceptualized and developed under grassroots conditions and not in focus groups of technology pundits - have been featured in recent issues of ICT Update. These examples prove that in spite of limited Internet access, appropriate ICT applications can play an important, supporting role in the revitalization of the agricultural sector in ACP countries. Of course, there remains the challenge of developing practical, sustainable Internet strategies that exploit the power of the technology whilst remaining mindful of the infrastructural and regulatory constraints. In the 1990s, it was predicted that the Internet would rival and eventually replace, conventional media such as books, journals, newspapers, radio and television. This early scenario, which in retrospect may appear a little naive, has been replaced with an imperative to use the Internet hand in hand with conventional media. For example, it is fairly commonplace for today´s northern based TV broadcasters to launch websites for particular programmes, providing background information, in-depth analysis, archives and areas for on-line debates. Open universities offer distance education courses on television, supported by textbooks and interactive training materials on CD-ROM, and complemented with online tutoring sessions. CTA has responded to the opportunities and challenges of using different media when determining its distribution policy for its information products. Its regular publications (e.g. Spore, ICT Update, Agritrade) are available in a variety of media, including print, email, web, CD-ROM and more recently via WorldSpace satellite . Innovative, appropriate ICTs will help boost agricultural production. New information and communication strategies, integrating conventional media, the Internet and other ICT applications will transform agricultural extension services. This process of change is already in full swing. Policy makers should promote these winds of change, encourage practitioners to continue their imaginative and innovative uses of ICTs, make the identification of promising ICT applications part of their daily routines. Above all, they must engage with the people that matter most - the users themselves. ICTs are indeed shaping the future of ACP agriculture. mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org Carl B. Greenidge is Director of CTA.
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