Research & Impact
Because the use of ICT to tackle rural development and agriculture challenges is so new—and is constantly changing in nature—the amount of research done on the impacts and outcomes of programs and technologies is limited. A primary goal of this site is to capture and disseminate research that demonstrates impacts (both positive and negative) in this area.
This section provides information on new reports and studies that focus on ICT in agriculture, creating learning opportunities about the effects of interventions as well as lessons learned from the field.
e-Tranform Reports: ICTs in relation to Climate Change and Agriculture
The e-Transform Africa project, an effort by the World Bank and African Development Bank with support from the African Union, focuses on how ICT has the potential to change business models in Africa. The project (a series of flagship reports) aims to improve government and private sector awareness about the potential to scale up ICT use. The reports are organized by six strategic sectors where ICT use could have the greatest impact: agriculture, education, climate change adaptation, financial services, heath, and the delivery of public services.
The reports present a survey of the current development landscape and existing projects across Africa, followed by selected deep case studies, and finally recommendations. Because of Africa’s largely agricultural economy (and climate sensitivity), ICT-enabled improvements have potential to reach a large population working in the sector, particularly those with the greatest need.
Report 1: ICTs for Climate Change Adaptation
In its survey of ICT use across Africa to adapt to climate change, the e-Transform report, prepared by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), observes that the majority of ICT users—from individuals to governments and international organizations—currently perceive ICT use as a response to daily life activities and development goals more broadly, but not as related to climate change. Yet IISD notes that by meeting development goals through ICT, stakeholders are also increasing their climate change response capacity. The report notes significant barriers to ICT’s ability to facilitate climate change adaptation into daily decision- and policy-making processes.
IISD finds that knowledge about how ICTs can reduce climate-related vulnerabilities is not widespread, in turn limiting ICT interventions. Dialogue and cooperation between policy-makers and the IT professionals are also rare. Survey respondents propose that two primary roles for governments should be in creating an environment that enables public-private partnerships, and investing in infrastructure development. The report reiterates that though marginalized, remote populations are most vulnerable to climate change, they have a limited share of improvements in ICT infrastructure. Governments and donors should focus attention and financial resources on these gaps to establish and upgrade ICT-based weather monitoring systems, and improve research and accessibility for these populations.
IISD engaged in deep-dive case studies of responses to climate change in Uganda, Senegal, and Malawi. The study in Uganda, a country that generates 90+ percent of export earnings from agriculture, focuses on the need for improved data collection and knowledge dissemination and coordination. IISD observes that though the government has prioritized adaptation projects as development goals, there are gaps that could be filled with the assistance of ICTs. It suggests that ICTs could be particularly useful in developing local research capacity and cataloguing knowledge on a local level. Coordination is essential; the report identifies 84 government and NGO actors operating in the country with limited documentation or communication of results. This leads to wasteful redundancies and lost opportunities for synergy.
Report 2: ICTs in the Agriculture Sector
The e-Transform report on ICTs in agriculture, prepared by Deloitte, echoes many of the challenges of the climate change report. Though there have been significant gains in ICT capacity and physical infrastructure, further development is limited by a lack of an infrastructure backbone. This is compounded by a lack of literacy and numeracy skills, diminishing the accessibility and impact of many existing ICT systems. Government and NGO efforts must take these realities into account when designing ICT-enabled interventions into agricultural markets. The report looks at various examples and two deep-dive case studies in Namibia and Egypt to find current practices that can teach valuable lessons about ICT-facilitated interventions in agriculture. The figure below identifies the areas where ICT solutions integrate into the agriculutre value chain.
(Figure taken from the e-Transform Agriculture report)
The Zambia National Farmers Union(ZNFU) has undertaken two successful programs to help the economic development of its members. First, it operates an SMS-based system of communicating commodity prices, with prices updated daily and also posted on a website. Though similar systems exist elsewhere, this effort has been particularly effective because of its innovative approach. For example, in every district, the ZNFU trains a farmer to act as a contact with the system, interfacing with local extension officers who then post weekly price and trader information in local centers. The ZNFU also maintains an eTransport system, which allows farmers and traders to optimize transportation size and timing, and thus reduce costs. Deloitte suggests that this system is effective because it bundles services (both prices and transport) to broaden appeal. Deloitte also notes that because the ZNFU is a government-recognized body, its services have added credibility and farmers, traders, and transporters feel more comfortable sharing information into the system. This demonstrates the impact that government can have by creating an enabling an environment and championing the use of ICT.
Deloitte selected two case studies based on their potential to show significant improvement in production through ICT usage. They identified irrigation efficiency and livestock traceability as two major opportunities and examined successful programs in Egypt and Namibia, respectively, to draw lessons for future implementation.
Case Study: Traceability in Namibia
Livestock production is the largest agricultural sector in Africa. In order to be traded internationally, animals and animal products must meet traceability standards as defined by the Codex Alimentarius and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Unfortunately, very few African countries are equipped to meet these standards and many markets are unable to control diseases effectively. A traceability system is advantageous because it brings together enabling government action and all sectors of the livestock industry into a coordinated body.
The Namibian Livestock Identification and Traceability System (NamLITS) for the Northern Communal Areas (NCA) utilizes electronic RFID ear tags, along with secondary visual tags, tied to a unique animal identification number, which are scanned at every stage of cattle movement and compiled in a database. This database allows for more effective tracing in the event of a disease outbreak, enabling quarantine and other necessary steps. The database also interfaces with information systems maintained by abattoirs and auction houses and the Stocks Brand Register to form a full picture of livestock movement and activity. Deloitte notes that for the system to be implemented properly, it requires the teamwork of four different sectors: 1) government through the development of a beneficial legislative environment, maintenance of standards, and training and information dissemination; 2) industry participants like the Meat Board of Namibia, livestock owners and transporters, and auctioneers and traders, who contribute to the design planning and are responsible for complying with system requirements; 3) donor agencies who provide investment; and 4) the international community responsible for setting standards.
Deloitte also notes that the system was effectively implemented due to robust efforts in training staff at every level of the system, as well as extension officers and para-veterinary staff. Extensive outreach through all forms of communication media and in-person visits and workshops was also key for widespread adoption of the system. The study also suggests that private partnership is key in the early stages of implementation, both as a system foundation where necessary infrastructure already exists and in terms of research, training, and feedback to shape the system to the needs of the livestock market.
See Module 8 on Farmers Organizations for more information on the ZNFU and how other farmers’ organizations have used ICT.
Watch Ben Akoh, one of the authors climate change study authors, discussing the study's results below.