Knowledge for Development

Future Directions in Agriculture and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) at USAID


Date: 11/01/2011


Title: Future Directions in Agriculture and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) at USAID Author: Winrock International Source: USAIDDate: 2003

This report examines the impact that new ICTs have had in agriculture, outlines trends and emerging ICT opportunities in the field, and offers some guidance on how the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Agriculture and Food Security (AFS) division can build on its considerable experience to take advantage of ICTs effectively in development assistance. ICTs can help mobilize science and technology for agriculture by linking agricultural specialists into virtual communities and accelerating agricultural research exchange between developing and developed countries. They can help develop trade opportunities for farmers by linking smallholders into increasingly globalized production chains.

ICTs can bridge the knowledge divide by permitting geographically distributed organizations to work together more effectively, allowing them to provide mutual mentorship and support. Finally, ICTs can support taking the long-term view, with tools for understanding and planning the future effects of today’s economic and land use decisions.Understanding the place of ICTs in developing country agriculture depends on four key concepts: that knowledge is an increasingly significant factor of production; that all actors in the agricultural sector are part of an evolving Agricultural Knowledge System (AKS); that ICTs accelerate agricultural development by facilitating knowledge management for AKS members; and that ICTs are essential coordinating mechanisms in global trade. Expanding the use of ICTs in developing country agriculture will demand a more active and empowered role for rural intermediate organizations. These organizations will increasingly act as local knowledge brokers: they will identify client needs and suitable knowledge management methods, and provide feedback on the quality of existing agricultural knowledge services as well as identify new ones.

Effective ICT applications in the rural developing world face significant hurdles, especially inaccess provision for off-grid or remote areas. Rural telecenters have a poor sustainability record, but they remain critical tools and have potential for future improvement. Alternative models of connectivity ready for pilots utilize shared and inexpensive cell phones, pagers, DVDs, and personal digital assistants, combined with CD-ROMs or server-side Internet processing models. Sustainability needs to consider dimensions other than the survival of telecenter organizations: digital content, ICT training and awareness, and demand for ICT services may continue even where specific telecenters fail, and emerging technologies may start to address those needs. USAID peer organizations such as the World Bank, FAO, Foundations, and other bilaterals are taking similar approaches to ICT opportunities – connectivity provision, capacity building for users, agricultural content development and aggregation, as well as a conducive policy advocacy.