ICT4D has been dominated by the explosive growth and proliferation of mobile phone technologies and supporting wireless infrastructures, and further penetration of the internet and the rise of social media.
The ubiquity of ICTs, especially mobile technologies, is noticeably transforming the way individuals, institutions, and nations exchange information and interact. This offers an immense opportunity for international development agencies to enhance means to address the global challenge of hunger and poverty. However, rural populations, and in particular millions of smallholder farmers, only marginally benefit from the potential linked to adoption and use of these new technologies.
Right now, a digital revolution is changing the way farming is done, but poor smallholder farmers aren’t benefiting from it (Bill Gates, 2012).
The above quote was confirmed by ITU in a report that stated: “Mobile technology and services continue to be the key driver of the information society with the number of mobile broadband subscriptions close to 2 billion, but ICT uptake remains limited in many developing countries, and particularly in the world’s least connected countries (LCCs)” (MIS, 2013). This confirms the persistent challenge development organisations face in ensuring the use of ICTs in programmes targeting smallholders. The solution to speeding up the uptake of ICTs, mainly through mobile devices, by smallholders is two-fold: firstly, ensuring that smallholders are able to benefit from the penetration of the internet into rural areas, and secondly ensuring that smallholders are aware of the benefits of using the applications on their devices to improve production and marketing efficiency and the effectiveness of their business and livelihoods.
The current state of ICTs and mobile apps for agriculture
Experiences from the 2013 ICT4Ag International Conference organised by CTA and its partners revealed the huge potential of new technologies for agriculture. It also showed various initiatives from developing countries in developing ICT applications to address information issues along the agricultural value chain. However the conference also demonstrated firstly, the large diversity with little coherence in the development process of such application with areas of overlap and gaps in the services offered, hence the request from the participants for a comprehensive and (authoritative) reference point for information on the apps in the sector and also enable users to review and rate these applications. Secondly, the deployment of the majority of the applications is still at the pilot stage with few able to scale and eventually reach sustainability without support from donors.
Previous initiatives that have tried to address these issues include the Inventory of Innovative Farmer Advisory Services using ICTs by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) in 2009; an impressive report on Mobile Applications for Agriculture and Rural Development by the World Bank in 2011; ICT in Agriculture sourcebook, also by the World Bank in 2012; the mapping of ICTs Along the Ag Value Chain by the Global Broadband and Innovation (GBI) programme of USAID in 2012; FACET briefing papers by USAID which ended in 2013; and the GSMA’s mAgri Deployment Tracker and Africanapp project currently ongoing. However, many of these initiatives have not been sustained, and have lost their value with time; information should be up-to-date to be relevant and useful.
Aims and objectives
The proposed initiative therefore aims to build a comprehensive, up-to-date, and responsive Apps4Ag database to better support access to, and uptake of ICT and mobile applications by individuals and institutions involved in value chain development. Specific objectives include:
- Developing a framework for assessing the usability and functionality of these applications for agricultural value chain development.
- Collating and documenting ICT applications for agriculture through an Apps4Ag database.
- Mapping the applications along an agricultural value chain framework to facilitate use by value chain actors.
- Pilot testing the framework on selected applications in selected geographic regions and building a community of practice around Apps4Ag.
Using the framework to support up-scaling of ICT4Ag initiatives with support from the community of practice for evaluation of the applications.
Approach to the database
With CTA’s experience in knowledge management for agriculture and rural development, its current expertise in ICTs for agriculture and rural development, and its leadership in the organisation of the ICT4Ag Conference, wishes to address the need to provide the agricultural value chain development community and the App development community with a sustainable platform for interaction that meets the rapidly changing requirements of these stakeholders. Apps4Ag will boost information dissemination, knowledge exchange, extension and advisory service delivery, farmer engagement, and market access for both agricultural inputs and outputs. Thus CTA proposes to establish the space for interaction through the following steps: