Group 2 -Background and Justification - Paul
APPLICATION OF ICT TO ENHANCE ACCESS AND UTILISATION OF AGRICULTURAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION FOR IMPROVED RURAL LIVELIHOOD IN EASTERN AND SOUTHERN AFRICA
Background and justification
The large majority of people in the sub-Saharan Africa live in the rural areas and depend on agriculture and other natural resources for livelihood. Generally rural dwellers in SSA are victims of extreme poverty, and hence they are the primary targets of the Millenium Development Goal (MDG) No. 1. Raising rural incomes through agriculture will require intensification of production since the majority of rural farmers are also smallholder farmers but intensification must be balanced with environmental sustainability (FAO & World Bank 2000). This creates a critical need for information and technologies in the rural development. Knowledge and information are at the core of innovation systems which seem to offer more promising approaches to improving the livelihoods of the rural communities. Agricultural development depends to a great extent on how succesfully knowledge is generated and applied (Rajalahti, et al., 2008). Mechanisms for timely provision of relevant information to rural communities remain a daunting challenge in the SSA. Extension systems that rely on reaching out to farmers have not been very successful in reaching the majority of farmers especially the smallholder farmers in remote areas due inadequate staffing and other logistical requirements among other things.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has greatly improved the communicative interactions all over the world. The rural communities in SSA already have access to some of these technologies such as the mobile telephones and FM radio stations. Hence the rural communities are in a generic sense connected to the rest of the world. This provides a window of opportunities for the rural communities to access information that is critical to their livelihood, particularly that related to agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability. Whereas the business community and politicians have already taken advantage of these technologies to reach more clients, this opportunity has not been utilised by professionals in agriculture and environment to deliver information to the rural communities.
Much of the failure in agricultural and rural development is blamed on lack of appropriate technologies and infrastructure but here is a challenge of failure to utilise available and “appropriate” technologies to deliver information that is critical to the livelihood of rural people. This proposed intervention seeks to harness ICT to enhance access to and utilisation of agricultural and environmental related information by rural communities.
The World Development Report 2008 of the World Bank argues that agriculture has special powers in reducing poverty and be the lead sector for overall growth in the agriculture-based countries. This probably is the only option for most countries in the SSA but sustinable agricultural development will have to be driven by knowledge/information, technologies and a high level of consciousness about environmental sustainability. Universities are the “custodians” of knowledge and also generate technologies most of which are aimed at improving the livelihood of the rural farmers as the ultimate outcome. Universities therefore should also lead and engage other stakeholders to utilise the available ICT in delivering information and knowledge to the rural communities. It is in this context that Makerere University in Uganda, Adis Ababa University in Ethiopia, Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania and Africa University in Zimbabwe jointly seek to facilitate setting up systems for application of ICT to enhance access and utilisation of agricultural and environmental information by rural communities. The initiative will be piloted in those countries and will engage a wide range of partners and stakeholder. The key partners and their roles and responsibilities are explained later.
The overall objective of the initiative is to enable the rural communities access agricultural and environmental related information to improve their livelihoods. The specific objectives are:
1. Identifying, characterising and evaluating ICT technologies accessible to the rural communities
2. Building capacity of rural communities to utilise the available technologies to access and utilise agricultural and environmental related information
3. Developing a mechanism for collating and integrating scientific and indigenous knowledge to increase relevance and utilisation of science and technology in rural development
4. Packaging and repackaging agricultural and environmental related information to suit various ICT currently accessible to the rural communities