The Digital Agency for International Development

ICTs for Rural Development Seminar

By Chris Wilson on 27 October 2010

Just attended a very interesting seminar on The Rural Information Economy and ICTs, hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a major actor in this area, at their headquarters in Rome.

This is an area in which Aptivate is also very interested, and one in which I've done some research and been following developments. I still managed to learn quite a bit from three very interesting presentations:

Information Economy Report 2010 (UNCTAD)

The informational dimension of poverty, i.e. where information can help to alleviate or reduce poverty:

  • Market price information
  • Income-earning opportunities (e.g. jobs)
  • Weather information and warnings
  • Correct use of pesticides and fertilisers
  • Health information and education
  • Disaster risk reduction

Communication up and down the supply chain, and with peers and advisors, also helps.

There is an increasing trend to direct involvement of the beneficiaries in the production of ICTs:

  • As ICT workers
  • Manufacturing of ICTs (as an alternative occupation to subsistence farming)
  • Providing IT and ICT-enabled services (answering questions, finding information, running telecentres)

Mobile phone penetration has exceeded all other ICTs in growth in developing countries. On average in the least developed countries, it has increased from 2% to 26% of the population (1000% growth) from 2000 to 2009. Possibly the fastest-spreading technology ever in the history of the world.

Growth is uneven. There are still some LDCs where less than 10% of the population have a mobile phone. In Ethiopia for example, only 5% have a phone. This was largely attributed to lack of liberalisation of telecomms markets.

Half of rural population in LDCs have no access to a mobile phone signal, which will limit the further growth of mobile usage. Many Universal Service Funds are sitting unused. In some cases this is because they are mandated only to be used on the fixed line network, which is nearly obsolete.

Mobile micro-insurance has become a big topic. For example:

  • Kilimo Salama in Kenya
  • Burkina Faso, Mali (index-based crop insurance)
  • Alliance Afrique

Kilimo Salama recently made their first payouts to farmers because weather conditions exceeded their thresholds. The payouts are automatic and don't have to be claimed by the farmers. The largest was about $30.

Even those who don't have access to ICTs themselves can benefit from more transparent markets when enough participants use ICTs.

Download the full report (PDF, 171 Pages, 1240Kb).

Enabling role of ICTs to transform smallholder farmers to entrepreneurs (IFAD)

IFAD offers grants and loans to governments for argicultural development programmes. They are starting to offer grants (but not loans) to the private sector as well.

Grameen and BRAC had limited success with mobile banking (so far), because most of their customers are groups, not individuals, and mobile phones tend to be personal devices.

IFAD and WFP are running a joint project called the Weather Risk Management Facility (WRMF), a micro-insurance project. Half of the insurance premiums are paid by the farmers, and half by the sellers of inputs (seeds, fertilizer, pesticides) as they benefit from farmers being willing to buy more of their products due to reduced risk of crop failure.

ICTs enhancing plant production at the field level (FAO)

e-Locust2 uses vehicles with GPS, laptops and HF radio modems to send real-time information on locust swarms to governments, which can help to warn and prepare neighbouring villages and allow the targeted use of pesticides to control the pests. Time is critical to achieve this.

Digital Pens are being used to capture information entered on forms. The pen recognises what is being written, and where on the form, and captures the data for later upload. This makes it possible to have electronic filing with minimal training, minimal unreliable ICTs, an inherent fallback to paper-based methods, and hard copies of the forms that can be given to farmers or stored in local offices.

There are problems getting pest monitoring officials to enter high quality data when there is no incentive (reward) for accurate data, e.g. in one-way monitoring systems. If governments used this data to target their interventions, villagers would have a much more obvious incentive to ensure that the data was entered accurately and on time.


Thanks to FAO for hosting this excellent seminar, and to the World Food Programme for allowing me time off to attend it.

Several of us expressed an interest in continuing the discussion online, we have been heard, and Michael Riggs, lead facilitator of the e-Agriculture Community, is working on enabling this to happen. There will also be a follow-on discussion at the ICTD 2010 Conference in London.

Oct. 27, 2010, 7:45 p.m. - Tweets that mention ICTs for Rural Development ...

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