Let’s get back to the basics: beyond ICT

LET’S GET BACK TO THE BASICS: Beyond ICT
ICT4D, ICT4A, ICT4KM, ICT4KD, ICT……. These are latest catchwords with ICT promising to turn around everything from national economies to personal activities. ICT is now the buzz words on everyone lips. Everyone seems to be talking about using ICTS for this or that, developing ICT platforms for this and that… Every day on my timeline I see numerous tweets about an ICT conference here, there, everywhere. Next month, tomorrow, in the next few days, coming up in July, October, December, throughout the year!
Today I ask myself “where do we go from here? How do we get beyond these keywords to realize positive impact and transformation for the farmer?” I ask this with the smallholder farmer in mind, acknowledging the fact that small-scale production accounts for 75% of total agricultural output and 70% of marketed agricultural produce in Kenya (Republic of Kenya, 2010).
My worry is, while I agree that ICT provides major solutions for uptake and use of research results, information dissemination et.al, could it be that we are so engrossed in the development of these platforms and organising ‘ICT4’ events, to the extent that we forget the major purpose? (Read getting farmers and other end users to use these innovations). Much of the focus has been on inventing ICT-based innovations to solve the problems associated with knowledge acquisition, sharing or dissemination and very little on taking these innovations to the ‘ground’. Do the farmers know about them? In Kenya for instance, there are numerous mobile-based innovations through which farmers can access information be it on marketing or any agronomic issue. What is the impact of these innovations? Are we facing the danger of ignoring the purpose for which they are meant? Are falling into the same crisis facing researchers with their results in terms of uptake? In my paper on ‘Information & Communication Technologies for Agricultural Knowledge Acquisition: What are the bottlenecks for Kenyan smallholders?’ (In print), I investigate the use of ICTs among small holder farmers for knowledge acquisition and it emerges that the biggest bottleneck is lack of awareness.

Innovations in measurement
Just this morning I was reading an article in by Bill Gates in The world Street journal entitled ‘My Plan to Fix The World’s Biggest Problems’ (available here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323539804578261780648285770.html) Bill Gates argues that measurement can help improve the health and welfare of the world’s people. He says we need innovations in measurement and to quote what he says in this article, “an innovation—whether it’s a new vaccine or an improved seed—can’t have an impact unless it reaches the people who will benefit from it. We need innovations in measurement to find new, effective ways to deliver those tools and services to the clinics, family farms and classrooms that need them”.
I fully agree with the suggestion that we need innovations in measurement, lest we fall into a problem of over-dose! Too much of something is poisonous they say, and I wish to state that we may soon have too many ICT-based innovations solving the same problem but with little diffusion to the users who need them most.

Half baked cake
This brings me to the major question on mind today: what is the impact of all these ‘ICT4’ initiatives and innovations that are coming up morning noon and night? Is it a case of scratching the surface with just half baked solutions? Or fully baked solutions for missing problems?

The World Bank in its e-sourcebook on ICT and agriculture (2011) emphasizes on the importance of ICTs in connecting smallholders to knowledge networks and institutions; I dare say that smallholders cannot be connected to knowledge networks and institutions (these innovations included), if we just stop at promoting their development and forget about taking the word out there. MARKETING!
Have we forgotten what the actual problem is? Is it still lack of information and knowledge to enhance or improve productivity, which we seek to address with all the ‘ICT4’? If so, then let’s get back to the basics!

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