Sustainability of ICTs

Reblogged from ICT4Ag13 Blog

Greenhouse-farmerFarmer in greenhouse

Mobile technology has rapidly increased along with the demand for novel applications. More and more mobile technology implemented in the development sector is in the agriculture industry. However, questions surround the sustainability of these applications.

Such as those posed by a participant in today’s Plenary session “How many persons in this room are farmers?” amid the silence, only a handful of individuals stood up. This only served to add to the discussion on the lack of input from farmers in the creation of a mobile application for agriculture development.

The participant’s question is one that I heard echoed during yesterday’s Plug and Play session by many other farmers. They all wanted to know how much these application costs and how many other have started using the device successfully. Since small-scale farmer produces, more than sixty percent (60%) of food in the world, this segment cannot be ignored as they have a significant impact on the general population.

Nonetheless, among the many challenges that farmers face, developers and programmers appear to be producing the mobile application, software, and devices in mass quantities without feedback from their targeted audience. This brings us to the issues of quality versus quantity. With so many new applications available for a farmer, how does one decide on the best application? Should it be based on popularity, features, price, or brand name? Without proper distinctions, these products just remain on the shelf in the developer’s room.

Are these technologies accessible to the farmer? Do these applications take into the literacy level of small-scale farmers? Imagine farmers who cannot see properly and is unable to afford a pair glasses asked to use short message service. This form of application is, therefore, useless to them.

Bashir Jama, Programme Director, Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in his part of today’s presentation also stressed the difference in farmers’ learning capabilities and suggested to developers present in the room that mobile applications be customised with a voice interface.

It was agreed that across the board that consultation with farmers is important. He also gave what he called “quiet option” in Information Communication Technology (ICT) that extension practitioners can use. These include drama, video and radio. I do not see access a problem in Trinidad because new technology pops up every day, but the relevance of this technology to the farmer is a bigger issue.

Farmer John has one kilogram of rice to sell in the Tunapuna market but a weevil, unknown to him, has entered the rice. What should he do with the rice? Is this a question that Farming Instructor can answer? The answer is No. Why because, Farming Instructor is based on farming in Africa and not Trinidad.

Most of the developers I spoke to said that their applications were being piloted in different African states and in some instance Latin America. But, very few, only of Caribbean origin, had conducted studies there. Therefore, this is not only limiting the use of the application to one country but restricts the success of the developer and the opportunity of local farmers to seek international markets. How can you have a farmer to purchase your application, when it reduces his chances of exporting the product because the application does not provide information to that effect? As a result, the farmer is forced to go back to more traditional means to obtain the answers to his question.

I believe once the developer conducts a proper needs assessment with farmers they will improve the delivery of their applications. It would also make more sense to have an application that could connect to several platforms. Thus, mobile applications are sustainable, only once proper consultations are made with the relevant stakeholders. Judith Payne, from United States of America International Agency for Development (USAID), shared this tip with the audience that ‘sometimes simple is better’. What do you think is simple? Traditional methods are better or can mobile applications offer farmers the solutions they need?

Photo: CGIAR Climate

Blog post by Enricka Julien, Social Reporter for the ICT4Ag Conference.


2 thoughts on “Sustainability of ICTs

  1. There is a very serious need for customizing information to the farmers’ need everywhere. Even in India, many mobile advisory services companies choose to get their baseline surveys done through partner NGOs. It is the NGO that pays for the service and not the farmer. The surveys tend to be done in haphazard manners by the more shady NGOs and often the information filled is not reliable. Employees of companies in ICT4Ag need to get on the ground themselves and get their hands and pants dirty a bit. Those employees better be agricultural graduates well-trained in survey methods as people who have already studied agriculture tend to understand problems described by farmers related to diseases and pests.

    The need for mobile applications has crept in because traditional extention education models have failed in many places. To put it better, nethier have extention education officers haven’t reached out to farmers in the ways they should’ve nor have more people from farming communities been attracted into taking degrees in agriculture before taking up farming. Today, the need is greater than ever to strengthen and simplify traditional and mobile agriculture education services.


    • Hi NPHule,
      Thank you for your contribution to the discussion it was well received. I completely agree with what you have said but I personal am still uncertain how we can successfully make the changes needed.

      Liked by 1 person

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