Emerging innovations in ICTs

Originally written on Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The conference will help to address the ‘inclusive’ component of ICT4Ag, or the idea that no one will be left out. It is imperative that emerging innovations support rather than exclude stakeholders in the agricultural sector.

A vast number of ICT solutions have emerged in recent years that support the agricultural value chain, including mobile applications. Because there are suddenly so many, a concerted effort needs to be made to monitor their impact. However, very little is being done to bring together the ongoing discussions, initiatives and investments aimed at improving the use of ICTs in agriculture, and this means that many of the stakeholders in the value chain are being excluded. This stream with 12 conference sessions aims to identify new and emerging ICT solutions and assess why they have great potential or why they are likely to fail.

Inclusive ICT4Ag

The sessions in this stream will help address the ‘inclusive’ component of the conference theme, or the idea that no one will be left out of the value chain. The discussions on emerging innovations will be held in the context of their purpose to support stakeholders, not to isolate them. As a result, by the end of the conference, innovations in support of the entire range of beneficiaries – from agricultural researchers, input suppliers, agricultural extension officers and other intermediaries, to farmers, traders, processors, transporters of the goods, policy makers and consumers – will have been clearly identified. Donors, application developers, intermediaries, investors, and users can consequently fully promote these innovations and put them to effective use.

There are a number of components missing in the agricultural value chain that have not been addressed by the submissions received for this stream. For example, there has been no specific proposal regarding the use of ICTs to manage post-harvest losses. The stream will address some of these questions separately, for example why are some of these components missing and why do so many innovations and apps target market information but focus less on post-harvest management or access to input? We hope to encourage app developers, investors and policy makers to look for ways of filling the missing gaps.

The sessions in this stream will also explore some interesting trends that have emerged with the new innovations and applications for agriculture, such as commodity-specific apps (iCow, mFisheries, etc.), market information ICT platforms (MFarm, Cellbazaar, etc.), and data-gathering platforms for policy decision making (iFormBuilder, Magpi, etc.). Others have taken a more holistic approach and designed programmes that integrate a number of these apps to help the value chain function to the fullest of its ability, for example the Grameen Foundations’ Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) programme. We also expect participants – users, valueadded service providers, programme designers, extension officers and others – to critically analyse the advantages and disadvantages of these trends and to inform future initiatives in this area.

Formatting and delivering

The question of how to format and deliver knowledge in the context of mobile technologies will also be discussed. With the changing architecture of information sharing, it is important that stakeholders fully understand the users and their needs while developing and producing innovations. We have reached the point where users, whether farmers or traders, actually own these gadgets themselves, such as mobile phones. A mere decade ago, these gadgets were centrally located, in community telecentres, for example for the entire community to use.

Mobilising and customising

The challenge now is how to effectively mobilise and customise knowledge in the right format for mobile phones. Today, most information is still designed for use on desktops, rather than mobile phones. So the next challenge is how to get the right information in the right format to farmers with mobile phones.

This stream will document some of the emerging ICT innovations for agriculture and how they are being used along the value chain. It will explore how apps are geographically distributed and what gaps need to be bridged. It will also discuss the need for holistic solutions versus specific mobile applications in different parts of the value chain. Some of the specific areas addressed in the sessions of this stream include ICT innovations that support challenges related to livestock, fisheries, climate change, access to financial services, market information, trade, agricultural data, and sustainable agricultural development.

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