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Press Release 01/40

FAO-MIT MEDIA LAB INITIATIVE AIMS TO CLOSE DIGITAL DIVIDE


Rome, 20 June 2001. - The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today launched a new initiative aimed at closing the digital divide between rich farmers in developed countries and poor rural communities in developing countries through innovative uses of technologies at the grassroot level that can increase food production in environmentally sound and sustainable ways.

An agreement aimed at developing and improving the use of digital information in the developing world was signed today by the FAO and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory (MIT Media Lab).

The agreement provides for the World Agricutural Information Centre (WAICENT) of the FAO to serve as a platform for disseminating and supporting programmes initiated by the MIT Media Lab, such as "Digital Life", "Digital Nations", and "Things-that-Think". Both parties will join efforts to create effective synergies in areas of common interest, particularly in FAO programmes such as improving access to FAO information beyond the Internet, the FAO virtual Library, and other related FAO-WAICENT activities.

The main objectives of the cooperation between the UN food agency and the MIT Media Lab are to explore the feasibility of developing mutual areas of cooperation, to work on joint field programmes, to explore possible funding resources including joint funding mechanisms and to organize and support joint development of tools, workshops, training courses and programmes.

For the first time, farmers and rural communities in remote and least developed areas will be able to use advanced information technologies for accessing email and the Web using pocket-sized, battery or solar energy-powered wireless communicators at a very low cost. They will have unlimited access, through Internet and other innovative technologies, to information of all kinds including educational material, agricultural advice, food security and food safety, economic issues, information on market-access, nutrition, public health, etc.

Even illiterate farmers in remote and isolated areas will be able to collect and share information relevant to their day-to-day work: information and even training will be conveyed through voice and images provided by wireless communicating devices. These can be used either to access information or to transmit and share data on a wide variety of issues including status of crops, market information, or other. For example, in Asia, women farmers are currently using wireless devices to exchange information on levels of irrigation water to improve food production, WAICENT manager Francisco Perez Trejo said.

Wireless technology developed by MIT Media Lab tends to level differences between rich and poor, because it works as well in remote regions as in modern cities, and is cheap enough to be spread everywhere, according to experts.

One of the most distinctive features of the MIT Media Lab is that more than 90% of its funding comes from private industry: it currently receives support from 170 corporations worldwide.

Communicating devices using modern technology will be introduced to a number of developing countries through pilot projects in the near future and will also be displayed with demonstrations to participants during the World Food Summit: five years later which will take place next autumn (5-9 November 2001) at FAO Headquarters in Rome, the WAICENT manager indicated.

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For further information, please call FAO media office (0039.06.57052232) or FAO-WAICENT manager Francisco Perez-Trejo (0039.06.57053425) or consult on WAICENT: http://www.fao.org and on MIT Media Lab: http://www.media.mit.edu/


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