Study puts developing countries in the fast lane of information highway


The lightning speed with which the Internet has grown, especially since the World Wide Web was first introduced less than a decade ago, shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, the pace may quicken as more and more people discover its many uses and benefits. But how can rural populations make sure they become part of this global village instead of being left in the dust?

In a study prepared for FAO, Canadian expert Dr Don Richardson stresses the Internet's importance as a multipurpose tool that enables people - both in the developed and developing worlds - to learn from each other and work together more closely and quickly. The report, "The Internet and Rural Development", outlines the elements of a communication-for-development approach to the Internet and rural development, and recommends strategies and activities to support the development of Internet infrastructure in developing countries.

Based on a fact-finding mission carried out in a dozen countries in 1996, the report clearly demonstrates the huge strides being made in developing countries in the use of electronic communication. This will come as a surprise to many in the world of international development, where until very recently the Internet was widely regarded as "inappropriate". Richardson's mission, co-sponsored by FAO and the University of Guelph, Canada, produced extensive documentation of a remarkably wide range of locally initiated Internet uses in developing countries.

"Throughout the mission, I was able to experience the rapid expansion of Internet services before my eyes," said Richardson. "In some cases, the introduction of new services coincided with the day of my arrival in a region." He was present at Senegal's first telecommunications exposition when the national telephone company made its initial offering of Internet services. And he arrived in Mexicali, Mexico, for the inauguration of an Internet-based farm organization communication system and market information system there.

FAO's collaboration with Dr Richardson, a specialist in applications of communication tools to community development processes focusing on development communication, was facilitated through FAO's Programme of Cooperation with Academic and Research Institutions, one of the Organization's Partnership Programmes.

Are computers becoming an intrinsic part of forestry?

The latest edition of Unasylva, FAO's quarterly international journal of forestry and forestry industries, offers another in-depth examination of the effects of computers and related technology, focusing on their impact on sustainable forestry processes.

As most people with direct links to forests have no access to computers, they cannot be seen as the answer to problems facing world forestry in our time. But they certainly can help provide the technical means to address many of these challenges.

Computers are currently "revolutionizing" several of the processes fundamental to the future sustainability of forestry: analytical processes for planning purposes, resources assessment and date collection, and on-the-ground forest management are some of these. Another exciting development is the increased opportunity for policy discussion and debate at the international level made possible by the information highway, which can facilitate dialogue on some of the key issues facing forestry today.

Conflict management is one of the important issues currently at the top of the forestry agenda. "Addressing natural resources conflicts through community forestry" was the title of an electronic conference organized by FAO and held over six months in 1996, linking more than 450 participants from over 55 countries. An overview of this experience is presented in Unasylva. Other articles include "The Internet and rural development: opportunities for forestry", which looks at the potential of the Internet with regard to forestry and rural development, and "Information systems in forestry", which considers some emerging information technologies as tools to improve planning and operations management and control.

20 June 1997

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