Virtual Dialogue: ICTs in African Agriculture (Summary coming soon)
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Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) - including mobile phones, audio-visual communication, digital technologies, and internet services - have played a significant role in development in Africa south of the Sahara over the past decade. The potential benefits of ICTs for the region’s agricultural sector, and its poor farming households, are especially important, as Africa south of the Sahara has the lowest rates of agricultural productivity and the highest rates of hunger in the world.

A recent blog post provided a brief review of the literature regarding how ICTs can be used for development in Africa, specifically in the agricultural sector. For example, recent studies published by FAO, World Development, and Review of Development Finance have found that increasing access to and use of ICTs by smallholder farmers can improve farmers’ productivity and input use, access to financial services and insurance, and access to important and timely agricultural and nutrition information.

A plethora of ICT platforms and interventions exist to help spur agricultural development and poverty reduction in Africa south of the Sahara. Programs like Mfarm in Kenya and Agro-hub in Cameroon help smallholders access local market information and connect directly with potential buyers via SMS and mobile app. Localized weather information can also be provided via SMS and mobile app; this work is being done by  the Mfarms program in Ghana, Kenya, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Malawi.

There also exist a number of knowledge- and information-sharing platforms focused on improving agricultural production and enhancing rural development. One example is the Plantwise program, run by CABI, which acts as a knowledge hub for plant health, providing information, diagnostic resources, pest management advice, data analysis, and access to plant clinics and experts.

As also noted in the blog, however, despite the attention paid to ICTs in recent years and the initial success of many of these interventions and platforms, numerous challenges remain in ensuring that ICT use in agriculture is effective and sustainable. Many people throughout Africa, particularly in rural areas, do not have access to mobile phones, internet services, and other important ICTs. This limits the impact that ICT-driven programs can have in rural areas. The availability of reliable, timely, and context-specific data is also a challenge, requiring greater cooperation and collaboration among various government agencies and private sector actors.

To continue the dialogue regarding ICT use in African agriculture, the Africa south of the Sahara Food Security Portal hosted a virtual dialogue on May 23.  Specific discussion questions included: 

  1. What features of mobile phones have made them so popular and so effective? What can we learn from the use of mobile phones to improve the use of other ICTs for development?
  2. How can stakeholders in both the private and the public sector ensure that ICTs like mobile phones remain financially sustainable?  
  3. What kind of data is most relevant for rural households? Is this data already being collected?
  4. How can ICT platforms, specifically mobile phones, better support agriculture, food and nutrition security, and early warning systems?  

An expert panel responded to participants’ questions and comments and provided insights into the region’s data and information needs. The panel included: 

  • Shaun Ferris, Catholic Relief Services, Director of Agricultural Livelihoods
  • Michael Humber, University of Maryland/GEOGLAM, Senior Faculty Specialist
  • MaryLucy Oronje, CABI/Plantwise, Knowledge Bank Coordinator, East Africa
  • Benjamin Addom, CTA, ICTD Program Coordinator
  • Jenny Aker, Tufts University, Associate Professor
  • Mercyline Kamande, Mount Kenya University, Senior Lecturer
  • Charles Steinfield, Michigan State University, Professor
  • Susan Wyche, Michigan State University, Professor

Stay tuned for a summary of the discussion, to be posted soon!

Photo credit:IICD