Information and communication
have always mattered in agriculture. Ever since people have grown crops, raised livestock, and caught fish, they have sought information from one another. What is the most effective planting strategy on steep slopes? Where can I buy the improved seed or feed this year? How can I acquire a land title? Who is paying the highest price at the market? How can I participate in the government’s credit program?
Producers rarely find it easy to obtain answers to such questions, even if similar ones arise season after season. Farmers in a village may have planted the “same” crop for centuries, but over time, weather patterns and soil conditions change and epidemics of pests and diseases come and go. Updated information allows the farmers to cope with and even benefit from these changes. Providing such knowledge can be challenging, however, because the highly localized nature of agriculture means that information must be tailored specifically to distinct conditions.
is facing new and severe challenges in its own right (Globalizing Food Markets and New Challenges for Smallholder Farmers). With rising food prices that have pushed over 40 million people into poverty since 2010, more effective interventions are essential in agriculture (World Bank 2011). The growing global population, expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, has heightened the demand for food and placed pressure on already-fragile resources. Feeding that population will require a 70 percent increase in food production (FAO 2009).
Filling the stomachs of the growing population is only one reason agriculture is critical to global stability and development. It is also critical because one of the most effective ways of reducing poverty is to invest in and make improvements in the agricultural sector.
Even after years of industrialization
and growth in services, agriculture still accounts for one-third of the gross domestic products (GDP) and three-quarters of employment in sub-Saharan Africa. Over 40 percent of the labor force in countries with per capita incomes in the US$ 400 to 1,800 range works in agriculture (World Bank 2008).
Because agriculture accounts for the vast majority of the poor’s livelihood activities, it is also the sector that holds the most promise for pro-poor economic growth. In fact, agriculture is around four times more effective at raising incomes among the poor than other sectors (World Bank 2008).
No less important, improved agriculture also has a direct impact on hunger and malnutrition, decreasing the occurrences of famine, child stunting, and maternal infirmity.
Given the challenges
the arrival of information communication technology (ICT) is well timed. The benefits of the green revolution greatly improved agricultural productivity. However, there is a demonstrable need for a new revolution that will bring lower prices for consumers (through reduced waste and more-efficient supply chain management), contribute to “smart” agriculture, and incentivize farmers (for example, through higher income) to increase their production.
Public and private sector actors have long been on the search for effective solutions to address both the long- and short-term challenges in agriculture, including how to answer the abundant information needs of farmers. ICT is one of these solutions, and has recently unleashed incredible potential to improve agriculture in developing countries specifically. Technology has taken an enormous leap beyond the costly, bulky, energy-consuming equipment once available to the very few to store and analyze agricultural and scientific data.
With the booming mobile, wireless, and Internet industries, ICT has found a foothold even in poor smallholder farms and in their activities. The ability of ICTs to bring refreshed momentum to agriculture appears even more compelling in light of rising investments in agricultural research, the private sector’s strong interest in the development and spread of ICTs, and the upsurge of organizations committed to the agricultural development agenda.