ICT4Economic Development & Agriculture
IICD’s work in agriculture and economic development has sought to strengthen the information base and bargaining position of small-scale (agricultural) entrepreneurs vis-a-vis traders and buyers, certifiers and input suppliers, resulting in higher volumes of production and turnover, higher margins on sales, and improved incomes. Such outcomes required addressing diverse and complementary pathways, including improving access to markets, enhancing the availability of timely and dependable information on market prices and production techniques, strengthening linkages to input and credit providers, and improving data collection and transparency for certification. Next to enhancing capacities of individuals and groups to access and use information, better management of farmer- and small-business organisations has been a central tenet of IICD’s work in the sector. Integrating ICTs in organisations’ operations has created structural capacity to benefit from efficiency gains in their overall management and the organisations’ ability to easily communicate with members and with other stakeholders.
The empowerment of small-scale farmers, producers and traders has always been central in our work in economic development, with specific attention paid to the position of women and youth and the opportunities productive use of ICTs present for them. It has been our strong conviction that individuals are the central actors in their own development, and that by helping them to adopt ICTs IICD could contribute to a paradigm shift – changing the perception of small-scale (agricultural) producers as consumers of information to their being active users and suppliers of information, and not only enabling them to make informed decisions on their own production and business ventures but also enhancing their ability and their position to contribute to local, regional and national policy-making processes on agriculture, food security and inclusive (rural) development.
Our first economic development programmes mainly included national initiatives on agriculture, community development, trade and tourism, and co-created projects with national ministries and parastatal organisations. From 1999 onwards, IICD’s focus shifted towards sector-wide programmes on agriculture with a mix of national, provincial and district projects, often executed by a combination of national agricultural agencies, civil society and farmer organisations. Such programmes generally included complementary initiatives, strengthening linkages between agricultural research and extension, reinforcing agricultural information service provision, and enhancing the capacity of (women’s) farmer and producer organisations to access and use ICT to improve production practices, processing and commerce. Organisations participating in these projects formed knowledge sharing networks and bottom-up lobby groups to provide experience-based advice on integrating ICT in their national and local sector policies.
As of 2007, IICD moved further into more specific thematic approaches such as ICT for inclusive value chain development, ICT and youth in agriculture, and ICT for organisational strengthening of producer organisations, working closely with local rural development-oriented NGOs, agricultural research institutes and farmer and producer organisations as central actors in its programmes.
Over the years, IICD and its partners developed a large number of producer-centric ICT solutions, platforms and services – most often adapted to the local context and locally available and affordable infrastructure. Whereas early programmes often focused on telecentres, and a combination of newer ICTs with more traditional media, such as ICT-enhanced community radio, subsequent programmes included information provision and community dialogues using participatory multimedia – for example using digital video and photography in combination with mobile projection kits for viewing in rural villages. With the rise of mobile telephony, IICD focused on linking rural farming communities to dependable SMS- and voice-based information services on market prices, developing more complex mobile information services and data collection and dissemination platforms.
Our work reached more than 4 million small-scale producers and entrepreneurs and supported more than 700 producer organisations to integrate ICT in their operations. As a result of this, farmer organisations participating in some of our programmes reported an increase of 25-50% in their total annual turnover. After initial phases of learning and fine-tuning, most of these organisations are now able to use and tweak ICT for their particular purposes, as well as to financially and operationally sustain their ICT equipment and systems. The use of ICT has also helped a large number of farmer interest organisations to better represent the farmers’ voice in local, regional and international forums on agriculture, food security and/or climate change, influencing policy and strategy development on the basis of their locally generated experience.