Importance of ICT in the Agricultural Sector

ICT brings about social and economic development by creating an enabling environment. Almost every single activity in the modern world is becoming more dependent on the application of ICT for one use or another. The benefits of ICT reach even those who do not themselves have first-hand access to them.

Through ICT, for example, a doctor in a rural village can get up-to-date information regarding certain diseases and can use that information to advice and treat patients; an agricultural extension worker can learn new technologies, rainfall forecasts, commodity prices and use that information to advice farmers in rural areas. The importance of ICT in development process was long recognized and access to ICT was even made one of the targets of the Millennium Development Goal No. 8 (MDG 8), that emphasizes on the benefits of new technologies, especially ICT in the fight against poverty.

In Africa, agriculture provides a livelihood for most of the 75 percent of the people who live in rural areas. Unfortunately, the rural areas in Africa have the largest concentration of poverty and food insecurity. One of the causes of the low incomes in rural Africa is the low productivity of agriculture. Therefore, any attempt to reduce poverty should pay particular attention to transforming the agricultural sector, especially sustained improvement of land and labor productivity in the sector, facilitated by remunerative markets.

Lack of technological and market information has been given as the major reason for the low productivity in African Agriculture Knowledge and information have become the major drivers of social and economic transformation in the world. Knowledge and information are now as important, if not more, factors in development, and this trend is set to intensify. Agricultural education and extension can play a critical role in the transformation process to transfer technology, support learning, assist farmers in problem-solving, and enable farmers to become more enlightened on the modern ways of farming, thus boosting their production.

Many farmers have complained about the unavailability of extension staff in their locality for consultation or advice. This makes it hard for most small holder farmers to have access to information and learn new farming technologies that will improve the sector. One promising area to do agricultural extension to reach large number of farmers is using information communication technologies (ICT): mobile telephony, innovative community radio and television programs, mobile phones in combination with radio, video shows, information kiosks, web portals, rural tele-centers, farmer call centers, video-conference, offline multimedia CDs, open distance learning among others

ICT-based agricultural extension brings incredible opportunities and has the potential of enabling the empowerment of farming communities. With the availability of ICTs, the scheme for an increasing number of extension staff may no longer be exclusively valid. Moreover, the use of ICT to improve information flow and to connect people within the rural areas has proved that illiteracy of farming communities may no longer be an excuse to deny some form of extension system. The social systems and networks in Africa also aid in the sharing of knowledge.

Yet, while use of ICT in extension provides for several key benefits in relation to traditional media, ICT projects also come with a range of challenges including: technological dependence; lack of accessible telecommunication infrastructure in many rural and remote areas; capital cost of technologies, high cost of on-going access and support; inherent need for capacity building; often difficulty in integrating with existing media, and local communication methods and traditions and often lack of involvement of all stakeholders in planning, especially women and youth.

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