ICTs for Raising Rural Incomes

The question of deploying ICTs in agriculture needs to be examined from both supply and demand perspectives. The supply side is concerned with issues related to access of ICT-based services in rural areas. The demand side is concerned with the information-dependent nature of farming and related decisions. The different aspects of the two perspectives and the status of implementation in Ghana is examined briefly in this blog to assess the role of ICTs in raising agricultural production and rural incomes.

Access to ICTs—the supply perspective

The supply side perspective is concerned with both technical and organizational aspects of providing access to ICT-based services in rural areas across the agricultural supply chain. The technical aspects include connectivity, computers and peripherals, software and applications, and capacity building of farmers and other users in rural areas. The organizational aspects include the creation of an organizational structure for developing and maintaining the technical infrastructure, provision of services, and capacity building in using ICTs in rural areas. Broadly two types of organizational structures have emerged in Ghana, one based on the corporate agribusiness model and the other based on public sector or non-government organization (NGO) service models. The former focuses on incorporating ICT use into the overall corporate business strategy. The latter adopts a rural information center based approach to provide access, and network sources of knowledge, information and services for the rural populations. For both models, the ICT infrastructure for internet connectivity and communication is critical for the success of the business strategy.

Much of the supply side organizational strategy in deploying ICTs in rural areas has focused on solving the problem of last mile connectivity. Broadly three approaches have been attempted. The most common means of internet access is through fixed telephone lines using dial-up in areas where the telephone network has penetrated. The other two means are wireless technologies and VSAT terminals where the telephone infrastructure is poor. The telephone dial up access provides for throughput of only about 10kbps on an average, whereas wireless and VSAT offer scope for broadband access.

Readers should find below key information used by farmers within the agricultural knowledge system (not exhaustive):

ü  Agricultural technologies

ü  New crop varieties and their requirements

ü  Results of demonstrations

ü  Best practices

ü  Technical assistance during growing season (for land preparation, sowing, input management, irrigation, soil and water

conservation, pest management, harvest, post harvest management, contingency planning) provided by experts and

organizations directly or through different media

ü  Experience of other farmers

ü  Access to physical and financial resources

ü  Markets

ü  grain markets, Prices, quality requirements

ü  Inputs (costs, quality)

ü  Handling costs

ü   Transaction costs

ü  Credit availability (sources, options)

ü  Labour supply and demand

ü  Distribution and other logistics

ü  Selling options

ü  Natural resources

ü  Climate

ü  Weather (principally rainfall and temperature)

ü  Extreme weather events (cyclones, drought, water stress periods)

ü  Soils information

ü  Water sources, quality and availability

ü  Physical infrastructure (irrigation, roads, other structures)

ü  Policy

ü  Land ownership

ü  Labour laws

ü  Agricultural credit

ü  Agricultural marketing

ü   Water resources — regulation and access rights

ü  Environmental regulations

ü  Entrepreneurship incentives

ü  Off farm income options

ü  Dispute settlement

ü  Agricultural Insurance

ü  Regional development initiatives Adopted

The internet and mobile networks have the potential to provide agro-information services that are (i) affordable, (ii) relevant (timely and customized), (iii) searchable and (iv) up to date. Large sections of the farming community, particularly the rural

folk, do not have access to the huge knowledge base acquired by agricultural universities, extension-centers and businesses. While ABIPs are beginning to dot the Ghanaian rural landscape, one of the big barriers remains the lack of agro-content that

(i) is in the language of the farmers (ii) is relevant to their needs and (iii) is delivered in a form that is of immediate use to them.

Keeping these factors and the needs of Ghanaian farmers in mind, we will follow the esoko Lab, in Accra-Ghana. They have developed and deployed innovative ICT tools for dissemination of agricultural information over the internet and to mobile phones in our subsequent blogs……

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