Overall, prior to ICT4D I never really thought of technology as an integral aspect to development. In my mind I pictured the merging of the two concepts similar to One Laptop Per Child. I envisioned people giving technology to poverty stricken people who were uneducated about the devices and therefore never used them. In general, I assumed it would simply be a waste of development resources. Like we’ve learned in class this is often the case. However there is another side to the story, a side where technology (if appropriately used and implemented) can drastically help areas of development (i.e. radio in rural/agricultural areas).
Specifically, I enjoyed learning about different sectors. I found the participatory radio campaigns particularly interesting because I had never heard of the concept. Not only is it integrating technology into education but it also deals with capacity building. Both are extremely important in terms of development. When I think of technology I immediately think of the iPhone or other new devices. However using what we would consider “old” technology in a smarter way can be more innovative than the newest gadget. If a community does not have a need for a device, the device is useless no matter how high-tech it is.
As part of her internship with Food Tank, former IDEV4100:ICT4D (Fall 2011 semester) student Suzannah Schneider authored this blog entitled “Five Ways Cell Phones are Changing Agriculture In Africa.” The post lists some familiar ideas, such as using mobile phones to access market prices and weather information, as well as receive useful information via SMS messages. However, it also mentions some more specific and innovative ideas such as iCow and micro-insurance. Based on your experiences in our class, what are your thoughts on these 5 applications of mobiles for agricultural development?
More information about Food Tank can be found in this video: “The Food Think Tank Trailer“
Radio National, a segment of abc.net.au, recently broadcasted an interview with Mark Wahlqvist from Monash University on their program Ockham’s Razor. In the discussion the issue of food security was evaluated. Walqvist argues that food security is a growing concern around the world, and that in order to combat the growing phenomena a fundamentally different approach is necessarry. This approach must consist of support from national governments, international organizations, and assistance from the local and commuity level. More emphasis needs to be placed on biodiversity and ecology of local areas in relation to the functioning food ststem. A way to encourage these types of innovation come with connecting the communities at hand. While Walqvist’s Australia may have access to advanced ICTs enabling the farmers to community, developing regions are relying on other ICT.
According to Dr. Hilde Munyua in a report published for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, food security can only be achieved “when all people at all times have access to sufficient food for a healthy and productive life, and has three main components: food availability, food access, and food utilisation” In order to obtain this reality an effective and efficient agriculture system, that suppies food utilizes natural resources in a sustainable manner needs to be put into play. The information revolution is just one way the issue of food security can be alleviated. By increasing the spread of knowledge of rural development, we can increase one of agricultures most important inputs. Knowledge and information are basic ingredients of food security and are essential for facilitating rural development and bringing about social and economic change. These communities need information on new technologies, early warning systems in relation to drought, pests, and diesease, credit, market prices, and their competition. These systems of rural information sharing must place emphasis on the local communities. Traditionally the information has been spread through radio, print, television, film, and mobile phone messages. New ICTs, however, have the potential of getting vast amounts of information to rural populations in a more timely, comprehensive and cost-effective manner, and could be used together with traditional media.Telecommunication and internet can completely change the global agricultural industry. It worked with the Green Revolution in East Asia, why not spread the word?
An installment from the National Geographic series Digital Diversity that shows how “mobile phones are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives” greatly coincides with the report by Farm Radio International, “The new age of radio: how ICTs are changing rural radio in Africa”. Both the report and the article state that radio is extremely important for agriculture and increases awareness productivity and knowledge. The article stated an interesting point that having other farmers speak on the radio creates a sense of community as well a larger impact. Rural farmers are more apt to take advice from people they can relate to and trust (like a fellow farmer) than a radio producer or radio host. The FRI report stated that there were some concerns about the availability of the shows since they are not always accesible, but the article states there is a higher chance of the farmers listening if they air them at night when they are relaxing in their homes.
The “two way” versus “one way” communication was also mentioned in the FRI report, letters being the only option for farmers to contact the hosts or programs, though the article shows that many are utilizing their mobile phones and texting in questions and comments (around 20 texts a week per program). The FRI report states that there are more listeners when the program sends out text alerts around 30 minutes before hand. Both these usages of SMS are beneficial, quick, and painless. The benefits of radio are not only seen in agriculture, many could be seen seen in other sectors such as health. For instance, how farmers find out how to prevent or treat poultry disease can be transferred for human diseases and treatments. Overal the widespread penetration, accessibility, and affordability of radios’ make them great for less developed nations and should be utilized more often.
Across the board, most development practitioners would argue the bottom-up approach is more successful than the top-down approach in regards to development projects. The main reason for this is sustainability. The following blog outlines Esoko, an organization that brings the “market” to Africa. They focus on tools for market and agricultural information via mobiles and ICT. Their success is largely due to the fact the organization is demand-driven as “60% of Africans earn their living from working in agriculture, a sector so underserved in terms of technology solutions”. Additionally, Esoko uses the bottoms-up approach. The idea was not pushed onto the people, rather the idea sprung from the people and their needs. Mark Davies, the founder of Esoko, saw the benefits of putting street markets into the viral atmosphere. Esoko hires locally, employing mostly Ghanaians and West Africans.
The organization uses the increase in mobiles and ICTs’ in Africa to their advantage. The services and apps Esoko provides are SMS messaging, market price alerts, inventory reporting, SMS bids and offerings and maps. The model they use “starts with government or donor funding and then transitions into a business; a franchise that can grow into a sustainable company”. They have started working in Ghana where local businesses are using Esoko. As of right now there are franchises and resellers in Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique and Malawi. Many other African countries are using Esoko via government funding (North Sudan and Nigeria), while even more are funded via donors (Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Tanzania, Madagascar, Uganda, Malawi, etc.).
In regards to monitoring and evaluating, “In November 2010 a survey of 62 farmers in Northern Ghana who have been receiving price alerts for one year confirmed that they have benefited from the service, with an average improvement of 40% on reported deals and revenue.” As stated before, their success is due mainly because of their bottoms-up, grass-roots approach. Why do practitioners continue to push top-down approaches onto governments and other NGOs when bottoms-up projects tend to be the most successful?
In ICT4D Unwin discusses the extent to which ICTs are present in today’s world and how they are present in almost every aspect of our daily life. Furthermore, Unwin also points out their role as tools in the development and improvement of communities. Personally I believe that Unwin makes a very important point, ICTs are now present in areas that would not traditionally be associated with this kind of technology and are functioning as an aid to improve these fields. One such case is agriculture and the use it has given to ICTs particularly in developing countries. In the report titled “The Importance of ICTs in the provision of Information for Improving Agricultural Productivity and Rural Incomes in Africa” published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) it is proposed that access to technology will help farmers in Africa “improve agricultural productivity, practices and farmers livelihood”. The study argues that through the spread of information and knowledge farmers have the ability to improve the techniques they currently use and adopt new technologies. Furthermore, the report advocates for the spread of technology in the region particularly at schools to expose future generations to the power of technology. Despite the current increase in usage of ICTs in Africa and the potential they have for the agricultural development of the region certain barriers impede the spread in their usage. Particularly the report warns against two of them: high costs and monopolies. The report proposes that countries in Africa “cooperate in rolling out ICT platforms in terms of equipment and content”. This would reduce the costs of implementing new technologies and will allow for the cooperation in solving problems that exists throughout the whole region. In addition, to avoid monopolies and increase efficiency it suggests that governments in the region encourage competition between technology providers. In my opinion the impact that ICT can have in fields such as agriculture will serve as a stepping stone in the development of countries; however, governments of underdeveloped countries should create policies that facilitate the spread and use of these technologies in order to get the most out of them.
This week I did a lot of work looking into the rural and agriculture sector in ICT4D and there has been massive amounts of implementation within this field. One organization that has made tremendous strides on this topic is Reuters Market Light, which aims to provide agricultural information over mobile phones to farmers in a number of countries. There are a number of benefits to this platform.
- Reuters Market Light aims to decrease the digital divide in the agricultural world by providing these small holding farmers with crucial information so that they are able to compete with larger, industrialized farms. This will help to improve the abilities of a greater number of small farmers, rather than allowing a monopoly on success by larger farmers.
- By increasing access to information, Farmers will be able to increase their yields as they will be more educated on different important techniques and innovations in the field that they can apply to their work.
- As weather patterns are changing due to global warming, Reuters Market Light will be able to mitigate for that, and will allow for the farmers to understand new adapted practices, rather than remaining with their current strategies to no avail.
However, there are also some problems with the program as well, which do not allow it to access its full potential. For instance, the issue of infrastructure is problamatic as this program only targets those who are already in range of a mobile phone network. However, the farmers who are probably in the worst conditions and may need the most help are those who are in areas that are so under-developed that they do not yet have access to cell phones, continuing the digital divide. Also, this project continually has the difficulty of working in rural areas, rather than cities, which are often passed over for larger, metropolitan areas when it comes to aid work.
This case study focuses on radio’s contribution to the livelihoods of Alpaca farmers in the Peruvian Andes. Over recent decades Alpaca farmers have seen an increase in climate variability, which has led to a set of cold spells that have killed livestock, reduced birth rates, introduced new diseases, and reduced yields of their herds. In 2008 the Peruvian NGO Desco joined with Oxfam GB to pilot the CAMELTEC project “aiming to address technological, social, political and institutional issues that affected these communities.” CAMELTEC was based around information access–using radio to offer meteorological warnings and advice on how to reduce the impact of climate variability on animal death. Radio broadcasts were provided in preparation of weather events and throughout the events themselves. Additionally, CAMELTEC offered information on market pricing for alpaca wool, institutional support from local governments and more.
Specifically, CALEMTEC applied this information through a weekly radio broadcast called Amanecer Alpaquero (Alpaca Farmer’s Daybreak), provided in both Spanish and Quechua (the most important indigenous language of the region). This program was popular not only because of its informational value, but because of its use of humour and music. The program also offered women a unique opportunity to provide input, giving farming women opportunities for learning which were unavailable before because of cultural and family reasons.
This radio program was very successful, reaching around 2,000 people instantaneously at a very low cost (only $900 a month). More than 80% of respondents said the tuned in weekly to the show and since the start of CAMELTEC the mortality rate of alpacas has been reduced from 18% for adults and 25% for calves to 12% overall, saving about $500 worth of livestock per farmer.
During our class discussion of the future of rural and agricultural development, the idea of GMOs as a future means of alleviation of poverty and hunger was advanced. Although a contentious issue, it is an empirical fact that genetically modified crops offer increased food security through drought resistant and higher-yield crop varieties. However, we should not let the promise of the technology blind us to the trade policies of some of the largest GMO producers and pushers. One of the chief problems that has arisen is the patenting of life. Large multinational corporations like Monsanto enter a country, extract the seeds and strains they consider of value, and patent them. They can then claim sole rights over the seeds and sell them back to the community they were taken from, at a premium. Given that multinational corporations have the backing of the WTO, smallholder farmers are unable to export any patented crops unless they pay a licensing fee that cuts deeper into the razor-thin profit margins of the millions of smallholder farmers in India alone. So far in India at least, the result is a surge in bankruptcy and suicide among smallholder farmers, fueled by an acutely increased sensitivity to price fluctuations and poor harvests due to the increased cost of farming for those least able to afford it.
Several developing and developed countries are actively fighting the WTO agreement that patented life (TRIPS Article 273B) and/or the rise of GMOs in general. One of the breakout stars of the resistance movement is Dr. Vandana Shiva, who succinctly and I believe convincingly argues against the WTOs IP legislation in the video embedded below. How we look at agricultural rights has important implications for discussions of globalization and human rights, which I believe makes everyone a stakeholder in the fight for agricultural sovereignty.
I have included several other resources below for learning more about the current seed-war, as well as a link to the website for Navdanya, Vandana Shiva’s organization: