Saturday, 17 September 2011

ICT in Agriculture

Growing population
One of the main challenges that the agricultural sector often faces is the need to increase productions so as to provide adequate food to an overgrowing population considering the high rate at which natural resources are decreasing. The agricultural sector is now faced with more water shortages, loss of soil fertility, climate change and loss of fertile agricultural lands to urbanization. Nonetheless, the demand for high quality products continues to increase and has created a means for individuals living in rural areas to enhance their livelihoods.  However in order to take advantage of the new opportunities, farmers must comply with solid quality standards and regulations when producing and handling all kind of agricultural produce. For this reason, there is need for additional technological advances that will promote compliance.

The Role of ICT in Rural Agricultural industry
The role of ICT in rural agriculture and food security has continued to receive increase recognition following its endorsement at the World Summit on the Information society (WSIS) 2003-2005. The extent of ICT use in agriculture ranges from the use of computer applications, the internet, geographical information systems, cell phones as well as mainstream media such as radio, TV and newspapers. Although the concept of ICT in agriculture is relatively new in rural Africa, there is growing evidence of its contribution to agricultural development and poverty alleviation.

Enhancing agricultural Production through ICT
One of the main contributions that ICT has made to rural agriculture is the increase in efficiency and sustainability of small scale farms. Small scale farming often faces lots of challenges including poor soils, drought, soil erosion and pests. By receiving information regarding pest and disease control especially through early warning systems, new and improved crop varieties and new regulations regarding pest control, small scale farmers can considerably increase their production. 

Improving agricultural Market Access through ICT
Access to up-to-date market information regarding commodity prices, prices of farm inputs and consumer trends can have a considerable impact on the livelihoods of small scale farmers by increasing their bargaining power. Such information makes it possible for farmers to make informed decisions regarding future crops and commodities. Farmers are able to make decisions on the best time and place to sell and buy goods.  In many countries, the demand for such information has led to the creation of simple websites that attempt to match supply and demand of agricultural produce thereby creating more complex agricultural trade systems.

Price information is usually collected from the marketplace and stored in a central database where farmers can access it either online or through information centers. So as to reach a wider audience, the information may be broadcast via rural radio, TV and cell phones. However, a lot of work goes into maintain such systems and such work must continue if these systems are to be sustainable.

Capacity Building and Empowerment through ICT
ICT can be used to empower communities and farmers organizations so that they are able to hold their ground when negotiating for better input and output prices, land claims, resource rights and infrastructure development. In addition, ICT creates opportunities for rural farmers to interact with other stakeholder within the agricultural industry thereby reducing social isolation.