DRAFT CONCEPT PAPER
ICT-DRIVEN AGRICULTURE FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS
As the world seeks for solutions to reduce global poverty, especially in developing countries, Information, Communication and Technologies (ICTs) has been identified as a potential tool which could be leveraged to reduce poverty faster. Indeed, several international efforts by institutions such as the World Bank, the United Nations (UN) systems, including United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have underscored the critical role that ICT plays in national development. ICT and its application offer many opportunities for economic and human development. As global efforts shift towards knowledge-based economies and knowledge societies, Information, Communication and Technologies (ICTs) have been identified as key to the development of skills and knowledge often associated with productivity, competition, and wealth. .
Although ICT infrastructure has improved in many countries in Africa and mobile telephony has expanded considerably, there are still inequities in access to the internet, mobile phones and other digital technologies between rural and urban areas. Digital dividends are skewed towards urban folks rather than the rural people who bear the brunt of poverty and deprivation. Improving agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale producers, particularly women, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets, and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment” (United Nations, 2016) has been identified as one of the surest ways of reducing rural poverty and unleashing the human resource of developing countries for sustainable development.
In the 21st century both the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want emphasize the need for agriculture to be modernized to increase productivity and poverty reduction. The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda recognizes that global connectedness and the spread of ICTs have boundless potential to not only modernize agriculture but also to accelerate human development and progress, bridge the growing digital divide and develop knowledge societies (United Nations, 2016).Within the last decade, the need to integrate ICTs in agriculture has engaged the attention of policymakers and international organisations such as the FAO and the World Bank. E-agriculture, or ICTs in agriculture, is about designing, developing and applying innovative ways to use ICTs in the rural domain, with a primary focus on agriculture (FAO, 2016). E-agriculture offers a wide range of solutions to some agricultural challenges (FAO, 2016).
ICT4D Policy and National Development
Ghana’s history of integrating ICT in development could be traced to the ICT4D policy in 2003 which is known as “An Integrated ICT-led Socio-economic Development Policy and Plan Development Framework for Ghana.” The vision of the policy is to improve the quality of life of the people of Ghana by enriching their social, economic and cultural wellbeing through the use of ICTs as the main engines for accelerated socio-economic growth. The mission of the policy is to transform Ghana into an information-rich, knowledge-based and technologically-driven high income economy and society. The Policy covers fourteen (14) priority focus areas which are also seen as the pillars of the ICT4D policy. Some of the priority areas include ICT in education, e-government and e-governance, e-agriculture, deployment and spread of ICTs in the community, rapid ICT physical infrastructure development, legal, regulatory and institutional framework provisions, and research and development. In the past three years, the themes of the Annual New Year School have focused on ICT because of the low publicity accorded the national policy document and the slow progress made so far in accelerating the pace of implementation and deployment of ICTs as enablers for sustainable development. The School of Continuing and Distance Education has organized the Annual New School and Conference around themes such as ICT and Education, ICT and governance and ICT and Health. This year’s theme focuses on ICT and agriculture.
One of the critical sectors of the economy which the ICT4D policy has identified to mainstream ICT for accelerated transformation and growth is agriculture sector. Agriculture is a key sector of Ghana’s economy, accounting for 20.3 percent of the national GDP in 2015 (Ghana Statistical Service, 2016). Agriculture provides livelihood to Ghanaians in the rural and urban areas and seen as having a greater impact on poverty reduction than other sectors. Agriculture employs 41.3% of the active population that is dominated by women (Republic of Ghana, 2013). Since 2000, various sector policies such as Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (I&II) and the Medium Term Agriculture Sector Investment Plan (METASIP) have been implemented to accelerate the modernization of agriculture and structural transformation of the economy. Apart from these sector-specific policies, the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (I&II), the Ghana Shared Growth and Development (I&II) have all recognized the critical role that agriculture could play in poverty reduction and to the structural transformation of the economy through effective linkage of agriculture to industry. Both GSGD (I&II) have called for the modernization of the agriculture sector to address the perennial challenges that confront the sector.
These challenges include: (a) reliance on rain-fed agriculture; (b) low level of mechanization; (c) high post-harvest losses due to poor post-harvest management; (d) low level agricultural finance; (e) poor extension services due to institutional and structural inefficiencies; (f) low uptake of research findings by stakeholders; (f) limited availability of improved technological packages, especially planting materials and certified seeds; (g) inadequate markets; and (g) poor management along the agriculture value chain (Republic of Ghana, 2010; 2013). Other related challenges include uncoordinated research efforts; absence of up-to-date agricultural data/statistics to inform policy; lack of special programmes for training agricultural labour and low capacity of Farmer-Based Organisations (FBOs) to access or deliver services (Republic of Ghana, 2010).
One of the strategies suggested by the ICT4D Policy to deal with the perennial challenges in the agriculture sector through ICT include:
Unfortunately, implementation of the strategies of e-Agriculture in Ghana has been very slow due to institutional and logistic bottlenecks. While the ICT4D Policy has led to the development of specific sector policies on ICT in areas such as education, communications and health, there is no specific e-agriculture policy formulated by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. In both the Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (FASDEP II) and the METASIP, very little is said about how an ICT-enabled agriculture could be used to modernize the whole agriculture value chain, except to use ICT tools such as weather forecast information by the Ghana Meteorological Agency as early warning systems and emergency preparedness, and the use of media (electronic and print) to communicate information to farmers by the Directorate of Agricultural Extension Services is to help in land preparation and planting (Ministry of Food and Agriculture, 2011).
Setting in place a national e-agriculture strategy is an essential first step for any country planning on using ICTs efficiently and effectively for agriculture (FAO, 2016). It needs to be said that though we do not have a national e-agriculture vision and an e-agriculture policy, some efforts by Esoko a Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) has shown that farmers in Ghana can use ICT tools such as mobile phones to exchange SMS messages to improve their livelihoods. ICT solutions in agriculture are helping small scale farmers and fishermen to become more efficient and effective in their vocation. Recently, the World Bank has helped the Ministry of Agriculture to establish an internet-based platform called “e-agriculture” for efficient dissemination of agricultural-related information. This project is being considered as a complementary module to the existing traditional extension services available to farmers.
Aim of the 68th Annual New Year School and Conference
Since 2009, the Annual New Year School has focused on ICT and National Development providing the platform for awareness raising and a dispassionate discussion of the National ICT4D policy. So far, the School’s themes have focused on ICT and Education, ICT and Governance, and ICT and Health. This year’s Annual New School and Conference is on the theme: ICT and Agriculture. The aim of the 68th Annual New Year School and Conference is to create the platform for a dispassionate discussion of how as a nation we could integrate ICTs in agriculture to modernize the sector and increase its productivity for sustainable development. The School focuses on the question: ‘How can we integrate ICT tools effectively within the agriculture sector to overcome the perennial challenges and to increase agricultural productivity?’
The objectives of the School and Conference are to:
Who should attend?
The school is open to all Ghanaians, but more importantly to:
The Annual New Year School and Conference will focus on the following sub-themes in order to achieve the overall theme.
· National E-agriculture Policy and Strategies
· ICT Adoption and Use by Small-Scale Farmers
· Digital Financial Services for Farmers (mobile money, micro-finance, micro-insurance)
· E-agriculture Solutions and Agricultural Productivity
· E-extension and Adoption of Technologies by Farmers
· Remote Sensing Technologies and Agricultural Production
· Using Social Media Tools to Improve Agricultural Productivity
· Capacity Development and ICTs
· E-agriculture and Rural Development
· E-agriculture and the Youth
· E-agriculture, Women Farmers and Accessibility to Technologies
· ICT, Climate Change and Agricultural Production
· ICT Infrastructure and Rural Development