Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Welcome to our newest team member

We are pleased to welcome our newest team member Faria Rashid.  Faria is an MSc student in Capacity Development and Extension with International Development Studies at the University of Guelph.  She will be working with team member Dr. Helen Hambly on the Radio+ Working Group within the project.

Her past experience includes various development studies projects while she was in Bangladesh, including work with Oxfam, SIDA, IUCN, and ICDDR(B).  She has a keen interest in the role of ICT in rural development and agriculture, and we welcome her to the project.

Friday, November 7, 2014

FAO E-Agriculture Forum: Comparing our Experiences

FAO E-Agriculture Forum: Comparing our Experiences

E-agriculture is an online forum. It is part of the participatory discussion on “Communication for Development, community media and ICTs for family farming and rural development”, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC). From 22 September to 6 October 2014, E-agriculture forum discussed five key issues related to communication media and ICT tools. Their topics were framed by the following questions:
  1. How can communication, community media and ICT tools support family farmers in their activities?
  2. How can ICT tools and communication services engage family farmers in accessing information and exchanging knowledge?
  3.  What are the barriers family farmers face when using community media and other ICT tools?
  4. What can be done at policy level to promote the use of community media and ICTs, and improve rural communication services?
  5. What are concrete actions that can be undertaken to improve rural communication policies and services?
From these discussions our SSHRC PDG project might learn that:

Communication, community media and ICT tools support family farmers in their activities around the world. In the era of globalization, we need to introduce these tools to the farming activities and farmers can use ICT tools to communicate globally. Using ICT tools and equipment like community radio or mobile phone, family farmers benefited in several ways. For example, Michael Riggs, FAO’s Information Management Specialist for the Asia-Pacific region, he shared a recently realized video on how mobile phones are being used by farmers in Myanmar.

Agriculture offices and other farming institutions can share information about seeds, fertilizer and weather forecasts with the farmers. Oumy Ndeye from Senegal, she highlighted how weather forecasts and climate service helping farmers. The weather forecasting department of Senegal (ANACIM) and CCAFS are testing a promising use of mobile phones and community radio to help the farmers to base their critical decisions during the short and erratic raining season on timely information about the weather.

As researchers or extension workers we should not underestimate that farmers and their families can use ICT for entertainment, and education. Like listening to music from the radio during breaks in their work, ICT tools also can create awareness among family farmers such health issues or early marriage. For example community radio is providing a voice to millions in rural Bangladesh and helping fight poverty and extremism. local radio station broadcast 95% of their programs in local language, and the majority of their audience consists of women.

Community media and ICT are promoters of social and economic change in rural areas, providing access to timely information to improve agricultural production and revenues. ICT also helped in the training of rural communities’ farmer families about home gardens and community forestry to ensure food security and create niche crop innovations. For instance, Walther Ubau from Nicaragua, he shared how Nicaragua has some considerable experience in indigenous communities benefiting from community forestry. They have been projects in the Atlantic coast of the country. Community leaders are trained for community management of forests, on issues such as conformation of small forest enterprise and appropriate use of ICT to market their products. Equally ICT has helped in the training of community families about home gardens. 

Most relevant to our SSHRC PDG project is that through mobile SMS based services, ICT can provide farmers with current information about weather or markets. ICT tools and communication services engage family farmers in accessing information and exchanging knowledge. For understanding what are ICT tools and communication services, farmer training is needed. For better communication farmers can learn the two way uses of mobile phones in delivering SMS messages to farmers, receiving feedback or concerns. Radio is a useful media for farmers. For example in Uganda women farmers get together in groups of 30 in 12 sub counties of the community to listen, ask questions and contribute to radio agricultural talk shows. This example was posted by the E-agriculture forum coordinator Valeria Contessa is currently working in FAO on TECA (Technology and practice for small agricultural products.- She mentioned that through a partnership between the Grameen Foundation and FAO, the TECA content is used to repackage information and to share it with farmers in Uganda through a network of community knowledge workers by using mobile phones. This allowed the Grameen Foundation in Uganda to use information from TECA to reach more than 250,000 farmers via smart phone.

The E-agriculture forum participates agreed that ICT become very easy to use even with limited technical knowledge. Almost anybody can use at least some of the wide range of available ICT tools. ICT tools influence and motivate young farmers. Through the ICT trainings from ICT center young farmer are introduced to the digital world.  Using the ICTs, farmers are able to know the local crop price information, production techniques and new technologies and financing opportunities. After getting ICT trainings, young farmers can start applying the knowledge in agricultural work. Some of these applications of their knowledge are in the area of best market prices, keeping records and find crops in high demand etc.

In Summary, community media and ICT tools are very helpful for the family farmers but it has some barriers as well. This discussion forum identified 14 key obstacles: 
  1. Accessibility of telecom services, affordability for telecom services and electronic devices
  2. ICT teaching and education.
  3. Internet/network coverage is not good in most of the rural areas.
  4. Cost of purchasing mobile applications and its operation through mobile service providers is not affordable to farmers.
  5. Quality of information like what types of information they should take.
  6. Use of mobile phone services are still in very early stage. Basic functions like placing missed calls, making/receiving calls. Advanced use of services such as MMS/internet/value added service related to agriculture through mobile is very limited in some rural areas
  7. Language barriers. It means rural people may know only their local language so when they want to use internet they face problems.
  8. Privacy problem, especially for women when they use mobile.
  9. Low literacy is a serious limiting factor for family farmers as it deprives them from accessing important information that is available in written format.
  10. Poverty is a barrier for using ICT because some rural farmers cannot afford computer.
  11. Low technical skills is also a problem. When social centers provide free internet, most rural farmers cannot use it by themselves.
  12. Lack of infrastructure, like limited training institutes.
  13. Lack of electricity, television, internet and community radio stations. 
  14. The absence of effective Public Private Partnership in linking ICT to agricultural development.

Let us now consider the following question as colleagues of the SSHRC PDG project which of the above mentioned opportunities and obstacles have we also identified and addressed in our activities?

By: Faria Rashid and Helen Hambly.
University of Guelph, Canada.