Originally written on Wednesday, 21 June 2017
In ICT Update and on websites as ICT4D, CTA has covered the explosive growth and proliferation of digital and mobile phone technologies for agriculture. Now CTA takes the next step with developing the Apps4Ag database, a comprehensive, up-to-date and responsive database of ICTs including mobile, web, animation, audio, and video applications involved in the food value chains.
The ubiquity of ICTs, especially mobile technologies, is noticeably transforming the way individuals and institutions exchange information and interact. Still, rural populations in developing countries, in particular the millions of smallholder farmers, only marginally benefit from the potentials linked to adoption and use of these new technologies. The solution to speeding up the uptake of ICTs, mainly through mobile devices, by smallholders is two-fold: firstly, ensuring that smallholders are aware of the benefits of using the applications on their devices, and secondly, ensuring that smallholders are able to benefit from the penetration of the internet into rural areas. Both are eminent for improving production and marketing efficiency and the effectiveness of farmers’ business and livelihoods.
Many initiatives and studies already have shown the opportunities of mobile applications for stakeholders in the agricultural sector. The World Bank published Mobile Applications for Agriculture and Rural Development in 2011 and there is GSMA’s mAgri Deployment Tracker among many other initiatives. Still, there is not one comprehensive and interactive database that collects information from all available ICTs and mobile applications for agriculture. That is why CTA and partners initiated the Apps4Ag framework immediately after the 2013 ICT4Ag International Conference in Kigali, Rwanda and why we are now asking you to try out this version and give us some feedback and contribute content.
Sustainable platform for interaction
Over the years, CTA has shown its profound experience in knowledge management for agriculture and rural development. With its current expertise in ICTs for agriculture and rural development, and its leadership in the organisation of the ICT4Ag Conference, CTA aims with Apps4Ag to address the need and provide the agricultural value chain development community and the app development community with a sustainable platform for interaction that meets the rapidly changing requirements of these stakeholders.
There were three specific objectives and needs for Apps4Ag database. First, developing an agricultural value chain framework upon which the apps will be mapped to facilitate use by value chain actors. Second, collating and documenting ICT applications for agriculture. Third, developing a framework for assessing the usability and functionality of these applications for agricultural value chain development.
The database will become the centerpiece for new opportunities to facilitate and support up-scaling of ICTs for agriculture initiatives with support from the ICT4Ag Community of Practice that will evaluate the applications. Apps4Ag database will boost information dissemination, knowledge exchange, extension and advisory service delivery, farmer engagement, and market access for both agricultural inputs and outputs.
Keeping the database up-to-date
The database is expected to be interactive with a feedback and update form for users to submit information on applications that are not currently in the database or for developers to correct and update information on their solutions. Feedbacks and new submissions will be received, validated and updated by CTA for quality purposes.
Now the database is operational within its framework, it will guide the definition of requirements arising from evaluations by the ICT4Ag Community of Practice, and act as a guide for new applications yet to be developed. The ICT4Ag Community of Practice will be able to apply the framework and submit their evaluations of new apps, or new versions of existing apps. The community is expected to grow with increasing confidence in their ability review, assess, and rate the applications using the framework. CTA remains committed to sustaining the community and the platform as it provides a neutral environment to monitor the development of apps in the agricultural sector, not only to satisfy its mandate of support to agricultural and rural development institutions in ACP regions, but also as an international open and accessible resource.
The Apps4Ag database project, through its different components, is expected to address the current challenge facing most ICT4Ag initiatives: to scale up and be sustainable after donor support ends. Scaling up requires systemic effort, long-term commitment on the part of institutions, donors, and individuals. It requires a basic set of institutional values and incentives for key actors to continuously identify ways to build on successful interventions ensuring that they are replicated, transferred, and adapted in other settings. Current efforts and ideas to increase impact and upscaling can be read in this issue of ICT Update, for example in the articles of Christian Merz (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and Richard Duncombe (University of Manchester). It will also showcase some interesting ICTs and mobile applications that you can find in the Apps4Ag database.