The ongoing knowledge revolution catalyzed by increased access to contemporary information and communication technology (ICT) has provided unprecedented opportunities to enhance global food security. The Third System Review (1999) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) pointed out that international agricultural research should take advantage of the knowledge revolution and be in the forefront of harnessing knowledge power to enhance global food security. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), a constituent of the CGIAR, has taken steps to transform this vision into reality. It has formed partnerships with a variety of stakeholders in the emerging ICT for Development (ICT4D) movement in Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa. One of the key concerns of actors in this movement is the need to avoid top-down, technology-driven approaches. Another is to avoid the development of new inequities, especially in the rural areas, where social and economic arrangements may unwittingly cause an exacerbation of the digital divide.
Women, as principal custodians of local knowledge, wisdom and conservation practices need to be at the forefront of using contemporary ICTs for knowledge creation and sharing. Hence, there is a need to adopt a pro-active approach in involving women in ICT4D activities.
ICRISAT has had a long relationship with the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO-RAP) and was happy to accept an invitation from the Gender and Development group in FAO-RAP to facilitate and organize a regional consultation on rural women in knowledge society. We believe that the blending of non-formal or open/distance learning approaches with contemporary ICT in rural development will offer opportunities to bring rural women and youth into accessing knowledge derived from international and national scientific research. We are happy that the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), a valued partner in promoting open and distance learning, came forward to extend support to the consultation organized by FAO-RAPA and ICRISAT. A number of recommendations that arose from the consultation are directly relevant to the work of the CGIAR centers.
ICRISAT, in collaboration with several other CGIAR centers and partners in the national agricultural research systems, has launched a Virtual Academy for the Semi-Arid Tropics (VASAT) that blends a community-based, bottom-up information sharing approach led by rural women and youth with a technology-mediated virtual college of experts to enhance drought preparedness among the vulnerable rural families in Asia and Africa.
This publication contains a summary of the deliberations and the recommendations. We thank FAO-RAP for the opportunity to host this consultation and the COL for their collaboration.
William D. Dar