China's agricultural sector has been in a period of rapid growth and change since the late 1980s. Economic liberalization and adjustments towards a market economy, in particular its membership in the World Trade Organization, have subsequently created the need for technical change in information development and management. Agricultural technologies and agro-management practices must answer not only to these new market demands and export opportunities but also to poverty alleviation, food security and environmental concerns.
In response, the Ministry of Agriculture developed the Action Plan for the Programme of Rural Market Information Service during the Period of the Tenth Five-Year Plan. This plan emphasizes the development of human networks as well as technology networks to supply information to rural agricultural communities. It focuses on the creation of content appropriate to farmers and rural communities, integrating traditional as well as modern information and communication technology (ICT), improving both horizontal and vertical linkages within the information network, meeting the growing demand for information from rural communities and also supplying better information to the government for making policy decisions.
The importance of developing the human network to support the new technology and information to be made available has been stressed in China, with training and distance education as a key element. In addition to modern ICT, it is recognized that various traditional media and communication technologies also continue to contribute significantly in providing information to farmers. In particular the roles of television, radio, CD-ROMs and newspapers are emphasized in rural areas.
In reviewing the Ministry of Agriculture's achievements, the researchers conducted field surveys (the specific case studies will be published on the FAO Web site) and built conceptual models for information and communication networks. The case studies and models will enable other locations within China to choose and model their own development according to their own situation and implement the same to improve rural livelihoods. This study also complements FAO's other collaborative activities in China to enhance the positive effect of ICT for development, expanding information management capacity, augmenting technology dissemination and strengthening distance education.
Beyond China, these case studies will also serve as models for other developing countries. Indeed, this study serves a broader goal, as a cornerstone of FAO's activities in Asia and the Pacific under the new strategic initiative to "Bridge the Rural Digital Divide" (http://bit.ly/UNFAO-BRDD). This initiative arises from the need to recognize that the information revolution has completely bypassed nearly one billion people, in particular the rural poor. The advent of ICT has served only to widen the gap between them and others who do have access to such technology. The rural digital divide in China is clearly evident when comparing the disparities between urban and rural communities, particularly those in the Western China region, men and women and between successful farmers and their less successful neighbours. FAO and its partners, including the Ministry of Agriculture, are working on an integrated set of activities to bridge the rural digital divide by strengthening human and institutional capacities to harness information and knowledge more effectively.
Assistant Director-General and
FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific