A Brief Analysis of ICT for Farmer Information Sharing
Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are undoubtedly evolving the landscape of information sharing in Africa. ICT integration presents ample opportunity for growth in the African agricultural sector on multiple fronts, including increased productivity, access to inputs and markets, climate change resilience, and financial sustainability. The World Bank even claims that the advancement of ICT, as a whole, has significant potential to improve the agricultural industry. This may subsequently accelerate the development African economies and alleviate poverty.
Many mobile-based agricultural services struggle to reach scale and financial sustainability as many are in pilot stages. If unable to scale and financially innovate, these solutions may not be reliable or conducive to successful African information sharing. Also, in the market of these ICT solutions, there are many overlaps and gaps in services, marking little coherence in this economy. Further coordination may be necessary to ensure continuation and progress of these technologies.
ICT-extension services may also struggle due to adoption rates of the product. A study on the use of an integrated computer-phone database to match farmer labor supply and demand in Sri Lanka demonstrated only seldom adoption of this technology. The primary reason for this result was the general distrust in information delivered over a mobile device among Sri Lankan farmers. Although Sri Lankan attitudes and behaviors cannot be generalized to African people, these beliefs may be attributable to the general population of small-scale subsistence farmers.
Technology-driven information sharing has benefited farmers through the increased knowledge of market prices. Despite this, in one survey, most African farmers sold their products in local markets, where prices tend not to be available. As a consequence, after utilizing a specific information sharing ICT, 58% of the farmers did not feel that new price information drove their market goods to have higher value. All farmers engaged only saw price increases between 1% and 6%.
Although ICT applications at their full potential can make many improvements across African agriculture, there are also gender and age issues that worsen ICT adoption capacity. Many women and children lack educational and literacy skills to communicate via these technologies. As women farmers make up 60-80% of total African farmers, this is a huge subsection that this technology remains inaccessible to. ICT solutions should focus on increasing educational and literacy programs for these groups to equalize opportunity and strengthen ICT effectiveness.
While ICTs have seemingly limitless potential to benefit African farmers, organizations are not taking charge to use data to track useful and meaningful metrics. For ICT potential to be reached organizations need to gather more data and analyze it in innovative ways. Also, the current effects of ICT need to be further understood. Collecting empirical research and data on actual farmer benefits that occur as a result of the ICT is essential to understand the full scope of effects. We will dive deeper in following posts.