Assessment of Information and Communication Technologies in Pakistan Extension
This assessment aims to inform organizations seeking to employ information and communication technologies in agricultural development in Pakistan. The information in this report is not based on field surveys; consequently, we refrain from making concrete recommendations. Rather, this report should be viewed as an introduction to information and communication technologies for agricultural development in Pakistan.
Despite Pakistan’s rapidly expanding field of Information Technology, such tools are largely underutilized in bridging communication between farmers and extension support or other technical specialists. Major barriers include unreliable electricity, lack of rural infrastructure, widespread rural illiteracy, gender barriers to ICT tools and education, and poor user-friendly interfacing. From the national level, government organizations have invested in agriculture-focused web portals as a location to display organizational charts and project announcements, but fall short of providing relevant extension information in a way that the majority of agricultural producers (especially small-scale farmers, non-English readers or people of varying education levels) can utilize. In the last year notable improvements have been made, such as AgriPunjab’s web reformatting with prominent directing of users to a call-in helpline and links to a variety of extension-like research initiatives, suggesting a self-recognized push to meet user needs. Beyond websites, a handful of ICT for Agriculture programs exist, primarily utilizing mobile cell services. Mobile phone communications, especially when coupled with other ICTs (such as internet TV / YouTube and other social media) are a promising option for agricultural extension, due to cell system access and adoptability. Two-way, user-specific information formats (ex. IVR telesystems or call-in helplines) are key to connect farmers with relevant knowledge at the moment they need crucial problem-solving material. Other approaches include reformatting existing Internet resources for SMS and [satellite or internet] TV delivery in collaboration with well-established stakeholders in various sectors (i.e. Telenor, ZaraiMedia, Pakissan), as well as exploiting social media tools among community groups. The growth of Pakistan’s IT sector, in both infrastructure and ability of skilled IT workers and entrepreneurs, presents an opportunity for increasing access to agricultural information by farmers and extension agents in the field through ICTs. Where farmer-accessible ICT tools are used in combination, and services designed with the user-experience in mind, stakeholders and collaborators will achieve higher adoption rates and ultimately improved chance of long-term success.