Of the world’s 1 billion plus poor, seventy-five percent live in rural areas and most of these people depend on agriculture to survive. Enhancing farmers’ and agricultural workers’ livelihoods is therefore a key element in addressing global poverty. While farmers are faced by many problems, three are regularly cited as amongst the most important, namely: 1) access to credit, 2) access to better market prices, and 3) access to credible, relevant information.
In terms of information access, there has been increasing attention given to the potential of Information Communication Technology (ICT) to better connect farmers with the information they need. ICT has the capacity to dramatically expand communication between people and to improve access to information (and money). The question has been how can this promise of ICT be realistically harnessed to help the world’s rural agricultural poor?
Since the birth of the internet in 1994 and the dramatic spread of cell phones from the mid-1980s on, many “ICT for Agriculture” (commonly referred to as ICT4Ag) activities have been initiated and many are tracked on webportals such as www.e-agriculture.org or http://ictupdate.cta.int. Many ICT4AG initiatives have seemingly oversold themselves in terms of success or they ceased as soon as project funding dried up. Despite these many apparent false starts, there is a growing body of experience providing lessons on factors required for successful ICT applications in agricultural extension and on how ICT can lead to beneficial behavior change amongst poor farmers.
Of the various ICT options, the expansion in internet access and the growth in the availability of mobile devices (especially cell phones) drives much of the optimism for ICT applications in extension. Related to the growth in cell phones are the interesting partnerships beginning to emerge between the cell phone companies (or MNO's - mobile network operators) and the emergence of suites of services. For example, financial services, such as mobile money, may also have associated service options to access market information and even agricultural (farming) information. In fact, the bundling of services was suggested by some of those interviewed as perhaps the only way for pay-for-services cell phone initiatives to successfully provide agriculture information. Related to this, recent feedback from a number of cell phone service providers suggests that providing agricultural information as a stand-alone pay for service is unlikely to be sustainable.
Methodology. This paper looked not just at how to provide information but how to use ICT to provide information in order to facilitate behavior change. To do this, we looked at lessons learned from health, business, advertising and agriculture. In addition, we compiled lessons learned from various ICT for Development (ICT4D) reports (Appendix 1). Based on these studies, conversations and reviews, we drew out principles and then as a further check had leading members of various organizations review them against their ICT in Ag implementation strategies. As a result, we feel we have identified a robust set of principles.