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SUMMARY OF THE MEETING

I. Introduction

National, regional and international organizations have identified the need for the development of a body of normative works, or innovative practice case studies, related to the application of information and communication technology (ICT) for sustainable rural development, disaster management and improving food security. Specific recommendations have been made calling for such at FAO’s Twenty-seventh Asia-Pacific Regional Conference, in the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Draft Regional Action Plan Towards the Information Society in Asia and the Pacific, and in the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry Meeting 2004 report among others. This mandate falls directly in line with FAO’s recently launched framework for Bridging the Rural Digital Divide,1 and with the programmes of FAO’s partner organizations and member countries.

Sharing experiences and innovative practices is essential in the field of ICT for development (ICT4D), where new technologies and applications are developing rapidly but without a significant body of past experiences and metrics for benchmarking. The FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO-RAP) has been collecting and analysing case studies from the region, and other organizations and partner institutions have been developing complementary bodies of work. The opportunity and challenges found in ICT4D are cross- cutting and can be applied to many technical interventions in various fields including agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

By bringing together a cross-section of leading thinkers from organizations and countries active in ICT for rural development, the aim was to provide a unique opportunity to exchange the latest information on development trends and provide a means of moving forward from an accumulated body of case studies, through the development of a programme framework, to the validation of models of ICT for agriculture and rural development. Another aim was to provide a venue for networking to initiate innovative projects that could bridge the rural digital divide and advance sustainable development with ICT.

The goals of the expert meeting were thus to advance knowledge about the use of ICT for agricultural development and rural poverty reduction in Asia and the Pacific region and to prepare a programme framework for a regional project to promote and extend the application of successful innovations and innovative practices more widely.

The expert meeting included select ICT practitioners and researchers from the region together with several key agencies and organizations (a full list can be found in Appendix IV).

II. Objectives of the workshop

The workshop’s objectives included:

  1. to present and exchange innovative practices regarding the application of ICT towards addressing the challenges of agricultural development and rural poverty reduction, especially food security and sustainable agricultural development;
  2. to synthesize lessons and to prioritize areas for regional attention;
  3. to develop a draft programme/project framework to promote and extend the appropriate use of ICT to address the development challenges of food security and sustainable development; and
  4. to strengthen networks and networking and partnerships relating to ICT use and information sharing.

III. Opening ceremony

Mr Malcolm Hazelman, Senior Extension, Education and Communications Officer, FAO-RAP, welcomed the participants on behalf of FAO and then invited Mr Changchui He, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for FAO to deliver the opening address.

In his opening address, Mr Changchui He welcomed the participants, resource persons and observers on behalf of FAO. He emphasized the importance of information and knowledge in the fight against hunger and rural poverty and the need to tap new technologies to ensure that the knowledge gap is not exacerbated, especially the glaring inequalities between urban and rural areas. He made mention of the global efforts in calling attention to this concern such as the FAO programme on “Bridging the Rural Digital Divide to Reduce Food Insecurity and Poverty” that was announced in Geneva in 2003 at the first World Summit on the Information Society. He further emphasized that bridging the rural digital divide is a critical part of actions necessary to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and is also an integral component of poverty reduction strategies, the UN ICT Task Force, the Digital Opportunities Task Force, and the World Food Summit Plan of Action.

Mr He also highlighted the role played by FAO-RAP in bridging the rural digital divide and specifically mentioned the work with partners in the People’s Republic of China, India and Thailand that was to be presented at the workshop. Drawing on the lessons from these and the work of others via the workshop was an important component of the work of FAO and RAP. In conclusion, he reiterated that FAO will continue to work closely with member countries and partners such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UNESCAP, University of the South Pacific (USP) and others, including civil society organizations (CSOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector to address issues related to ICT4D in the fight against hunger and poverty.

The workshop programme was adopted without change (see Appendix I).

IV. Presentations and discussions

Keynote presentations

Three keynote presentations highlighted different aspects of ICT:

  1. “ICT in rural development in Asia: new learning and extension opportunities” by Dr V. Balaji of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT);
  2. “Strengthening partnerships and participation in rural information networks: lessons learned from five Asian countries” by Dr Alexander Flor of the University of the Philippines Open University; and
  3. “Bridging the Rural Digital Divide” by Mr Michael Riggs of FAO-RAP.

According to Dr Balaji, the role and use of ICTs are maturing in Asia. With regards to the use of ICT4D, the technologies and infrastructures should only be considered as enablers. Given the continuing reduction of public investment in public-supported extension services, ICTs offer much scope in supporting extension work in the region. For such, different models are available, one of which is the triple helix model being followed by ICRISAT and partners. The presentation also addressed content development based on key principles that include: (i) focusing on semi-processed/adaptable materials that do not use packaged models and (ii) the need to have globally recognized specification (such as through the use of AGROVOC – FAO’s Web-based multilingual agricultural thesaurus).

Dr Flor presented anecdotal evidence from five cases drawn from research in Bhutan, Indonesia, People’s Republic of China, Philippines and Viet Nam, all of which focused on strengthening participation and partnerships. He highlighted several challenges that were faced, including the lack of participation among workflow nodes and focal points, lack of partnership and partnership mechanisms within agencies and among intermediaries, and the lack of participation among the end users of information, with farmers generally apathetic or intimidated when it comes to Web-based rural information systems. On the basis of the five cases, the following lessons learned with regard to knowledge management were highlighted: (i) good IT infrastructure with respectable bandwidth to accommodate the functionalities and applications associated with storage, sharing and reuse of digitized or captured knowledge was needed; (ii) an appropriate workflow or process for knowledge sharing and reuse is required; and (iii) the environment or culture for knowledge sharing and reuse is an absolute necessity.

Mr Riggs presented an overview of the strategic programme on Bridging the Rural Digital Divide, a partnership between FAO, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and other organizations. He highlighted the background to the programme which stems from the “inequitable access to information and communication technologies between wealthy and poor countries and within all countries between relatively privileged and underprivileged social groups”. The aim of the programme is thus to strengthen human and institutional capacities to harness information and knowledge more effectively for agricultural and rural development and takes the unique approach of focusing on the urgent challenges related to the rural part of the digital divide. The outputs of this partnership programme include information content, development of innovative conceptual models comprising mechanisms and processes for information exchange and communication, and empowered networks and communities of practice, with activities occurring on the international, regional and national levels. A principal activity in the programme has been the continuing analysis and reappraisal of key issues in ICT4D initiatives, as derived from joint studies (described in detail at http://www.fao.org/rdd). At this time, eight critical success factors in ICT4D have been recognized and are being investigated as a policy framework:

Workshop theme presentations

The following provides a summary of the presentations under the themes of the workshop.

Session 1: Innovative practices for access and empowerment: gender and rural youth

This session involved two presentations:

  1. “ICTs for promoting gender equality and the advancement of rural women” by Ms Revathi Balakrishnan, Senior Gender and Development Officer, FAO-RAP; and
  2. “ICT for grassroots innovation against poverty” by Mr Sunit Shrestha, Director, Thai RuralNet.

The two presentations approached the theme of the session in different ways.

Ms Balakrishnan’s presentation described the approach taken by FAO-RAP to applying ICTs to address the challenges of gender equality and the advancement of women in rural areas. She presented a couple of graphics to represent the way in which FAO-RAP conceptualizes the connections between ICTs, rural women, and rural knowledge inequalities. She outlined FAO approaches to ICT and rural women, including the distinction between information on rural women and information for rural women. Her presentation concluded with a summary of two pertinent FAO projects.

Mr Shrestha’s presentation described a programme that is operating in Northeast Thailand. The programme addresses the problems of poverty, inadequate rural livelihoods, and the pressures of rural outmigration. The programme is entitled the “Grassroots Innovation Network,” and it encourages a process of resource mobilization, innovation, and self-sufficiency. It involves training, mentoring, a focus on micro-technologies and the use of photographs to document the “before and after” state of participants’ farms. His presentation concluded with a summary of this interesting model of innovation and diffusion, and with the encouragement to “think global – solve local.”

The question and answer session involved a demonstration of an FAO multimedia resource, and a question about the most challenging part of the Grassroots Innovation Network. The response to this question was that the initial establishment of trust in the communities was the most difficult challenge.

Session 2: Innovative practices for farmers

Three papers were presented in the session:

  1. “The Philippine Farmers’ Information and Technology Services (FITS) in the K-AGRINET Program” by Mr Patricio S. Faylon, Executive Director, Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD);
  2. “Some initiatives to reduce the digital divide for the rural community in Malaysia” by Dr Kamarudin Saadan, Director, Information Resource Management Division, Malaysian Agriculture Research and Development Institute (MARDI); and
  3. “Improving rural dissemination systems in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic: the case of the radio programme ‘Ban Na Pasuk (the Happy Farm/Village)’” by Mr Joakim Lagerqvist, Associate Expert, ICT, National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute, Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

The three papers presented primarily government-led initiatives targeted at rural dwellers and farmers that also included partnerships and linkages with their stakeholders.

Mr Faylon’s presentation described two levels of support targeted at supporting farmers’ and communities’ agricultural information and knowledge needs. The two levels of support combine ICT as well as human input. At the higher level is the Knowledge Networking Towards Enterprising Agricultural Communities (K-AgriNet), which is a network comprising knowledge generators, providers and users working together to increase the productivity of farming communities. It was described as a response to the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (2005–2010), which acknowledges the importance of knowledge in creating economic opportunities for farmers, upland dwellers, fisher folk and rural entrepreneurs. The most important element in the system was the ready access to information to empower farmers and other beneficiaries to make critical decisions in times of economic and demographic pressures, political changes, environmental degradation, and a changing global economy. The presentation described the different stages of knowledge development and use that make for a holistic approach to dealing with the provision of knowledge. The key interventions in the system include the Open Academy for Philippine Agriculture led by the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute, e-Consortia and e-Farm led by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources Research and Development, and e-Agrikultura managed by the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Development Academy of the Philippines. Also available are the Farmers’ Information and Technology Services (FITS), which constitute centres that serve as the last mile connection for the K-AgriNet programme. The FITS centres, of which there are currently 173 throughout the Philippines, are so-called “one-stop shops” for information and technology services in agriculture and natural resources that are located in areas normally reached by the extension service. Each centre has similar basic features: the support of one to two farmer-scientists who provide farmer-to-farmer advisory services; information, education, and communication strategies; and ICT. Moreover, 80 FITS centres serve as learning and technology transfer centres for the K-AgriNet programme. According to Mr Faylon, the FITS centres are considered to be effective hubs for mobilizing stakeholders’ participation in the local extension network as they are locally based and cater to the specific needs of the clients.

Dr Saadan’s paper outlined one of the initiatives undertaken by the Malaysian Government to reduce the digital divide for the rural community through an effort to forge a tri-sectoral partnership among the public, private and community interest sectors. It is aimed to extend infrastructure and networking facilities to disadvantaged groups with the main strategy being the development of a “one-stop-shop” known as the Malaysian Tropical Fruit Information System (MTFIS). It involved the integration of the info-structure, content and community components into a cohesive portal. The information content targeted was comprehensive, credible and up-to-date verified data required by the tropical fruit industry, whereas the main service delivery mechanism is built through a user community forum linking people in a complete value chain within the tropical fruit industry. Impact evaluation study results have shown that the portal has contributed significantly to the enrichment of knowledge for the industry in the country. The project has also demonstrated that success is possible if all parties involved work together drawing on the strengths of everyone within the project team.

Mr Lagerqvist presented on a project involving collaboration in Lao People’s Democratic Republic between the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI) and the National Agriculture and Forestry Extension Service (NAFES) together with the Lao National Radio that focused on disseminating information on pesticide use through a radio drama series. Radio was considered an appropriate medium for information dissemination as it can focus on sensitive issues without lecturing to farmers. Moreover, radio offers the most universally available medium in the country and pesticide use is a topical issue that cuts across social, economic and cultural barriers.

Session 3: Innovative practices for rural communities

Three papers were presented in this session:

  1. “ICT in agriculture development in Bhutan” by Mr Kencho Thinley, Information Officer, Ministry of Agriculture, Bhutan;
  2. “Information and communication technology for rural livelihoods in Baan Samkha ‘Village that Learns’” by Mrs Srinuan Wongtrakul, Dr Suchin Petcharagsa and Dr Pisuth Paiboonrath, Thailand; and
  3. “Cyber extension: innovative uses of ICT for agriculture – Case studies from India” by Dr VP Sharma, Director, National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), India.

The presentation by Mr Thinley showed that since the start of centrally planned development in 1961, Bhutan has followed its own unique development path. The current trend of globalization is sparked by innovation, information and enterprise. These processes are supported by the development and use of ICT. Bhutan is broadly divided into four regions, with each region having a research centre. However, the linkages between research and extension institutions remain limited. Therefore, Bhutan is doing its best to strengthen the existing linkages between the extension agents and the research centres through the use of ICT. Few of the Web-based application systems are already in place and running full-fledged. Presently, the Ministry of Agriculture is adopting the FAO’s Virtual Extension Research Communication Network (VERCON) to strengthen the existing linkages between agriculture extension and the research centres by piloting the project in four sites.

The second presentation about the case study from Baan Samkha community in Thailand showed how ICT can serve local development needs by drawing on the local wisdom and making community development a participatory as well as a sustainable undertaking. Several projects were initiated and advocated by the villagers themselves and later sponsored by their allied partners. An important result of the project was the transfer of management skills to community members. This type of project nurtured the villagers’ sense of pride and ownership and it evolved into a fountain of knowledge that can be developed further.

The third presentation by Mr Sharma was about cyber extension use in India where ICTs have started to make their presence felt in rural areas. There, the private sector has taken the lead in providing comprehensive extension and marketing content services to the farmers. The e-chaupals of ITC and the “Agriwatch.com” Web portal are the trendsetters scaled up across the country. The ICTs are thus supplementing the efforts of the agricultural extension system (both in the public sector as well as in the private sector) to become a more dynamic instrument of a continuous two-way dialogue with the farmers on various issues. However, there is a need for a massive capacity building programme on the use of ICT for district and block level officials in all the states, so that they can meet the challenge of providing the latest and demand-driven information to the farming community. The most important suggestion given by the farmers is to improve the quality, timeliness and reliability of information. The information at present does not cover the farmers’ needs.

The lively discussion that followed was concentrated on mobile services. Knowledge scientists who gave oral advice and call centres, which provided guidance in two hours, were discussed. Much interest was shown in the Baan Samkha project and the presentation was greatly appreciated by the participants.

Session 4: Innovative practices for agriculture support services – extension

This session involved three presentations:

  1. “ICT application in rural Iran: perspectives and operations of the extension system” by Dr Ali Khosravi, the Department of Agricultural Extension and Farming Systems, Ministry of Agriculture, the Islamic Republic of Iran;
  2. “Digital Extension: an alternative strategy for network extension” by Mr Rohan Wijekoon, of the Department of Agriculture Audio Visual Center, Sri Lanka; and
  3. “Selected success stories on agricultural research information systems for rural development in the Asia-Pacific Region” by Dr Sahdev Singh on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Association of Agriculture Research Institutes (APAARI).

The presentations by Dr Ali Khosravi and Mr Rohan Wijekoon highlighted developments and challenges in the use and applications of ICTs in rural Iran and Sri Lanka respectively.

According to Dr Khosravi, the push towards using ICTs in rural areas in Iran started in 2003 as part of a national plan that includes pilot testing of ICT networks in rural areas and the development of rural switches and satellite communications in rural and remote areas. The equipping of 10000 villages with telecentres (ICT service offices) is a major component through which villages will be resourced with offices equipped with computers, peripherals and Internet connections. Gradual use is also being made in Iran of ICTs for agricultural extension. The aim is to bridge the digital gap and assist farmers to have access to technical, managerial and marketing information. However, important elements requiring attention in all these efforts pertain to the need for capacity building for extensionists, farmers, farmer associations, NGOs and others.

Mr Wijekoon highlighted the “Digital Extension” strategy being piloted in Sri Lanka for grassroots level extension that is managed by the Agrarian Services Centres (the Govijana Kendra) of the Department of Agriculture. Thus far, 35 Govijana Kendra offices covering all districts throughout the country have been implemented via pilot project centres equipped with basic equipment that includes a computer, a scanner, printer and a digital camera with several strategies being employed for information transfer. These strategies include the use of interactive multimedia CD-ROM through which low cost audiovisual aids such as flip charts and leaflets are produced by trained extension workers. The same system is used as information databases covering various agricultural subjects for the self-directed learning of both extensionists and farmers via a Web-based (Internet) delivery and via a visual database of the cultivation season that includes relevant technical information plus feedback from the field. Recent evaluation of the system has identified several logistical and technical areas requiring modifications, including the need for raising awareness of the service to encourage greater use of it by rural people.

The presentation by Dr Singh mentioned that despite the many challenges facing technology transfer in Asia and the Pacific region, there are some unique success stories that demonstrate how new ICTs can play a significant role in rural development by empowering rural farmers with new knowledge, up-to-date information and entrepreneurship skills. He mentioned the important role of private sector initiatives that link rural economies with mainstream markets using ICTs, and stated that the motivation for such efforts was usually the facilitation of commercial transactions in rural areas rather than knowledge and/or technology dissemination. The presentation reviewed diverse applications of new ICTs in rural farming areas of selected countries and identified models of such applications and made attempts to quantify the impact of ICTs. He concluded that government agencies responsible for agricultural research and extension needed to learn from successful cases and to build creative partnerships with the private sector initiatives.

Session 5: Innovative practices for agriculture support services – education

This session involved three presentations:

  1. “ICT and rural development: experiences in China” by Dr Wang Qiang of International Research and Training Centre for Rural Education (INRULED), the People’s Republic of China;
  2. “ICT for open and distance learning: basic principles and best practices in Asia and the Pacific” by Dr Scott McLean of the University of Calgary, Canada; and
  3. “Capacity Building with the Information Management Resource Kit (IMARK)” by Mr Michael Riggs of FAO-RAP.

The three presentations complemented each other in that they emphasized the role ICTs can and has played in enabling greater access to education and training for agriculture and rural development.

According to Dr Wang Qiang, the People’s Republic of China has developed and is using a mix of ICT-based systems. China has established and is operating an “agricultural management and information system” now operational throughout the country with the cornerstone for these being the development of infrastructure and human resources, including rural information networks. Several types of broadcasting network systems have been implemented in rural China and have included cable broadcast networks, wireless broadcast networks, the China Central Television, village-connection TV networks, and the rural school-connection computer-based networks. Innovations highlighted in the presentation included the system used by the Beijing Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences (BAAFS) that uses various ICT networks to disseminate information targeting rural people. The other related to the distance education network of the Chinese Broadcast and Television School (CABTS) through which different levels of formal and non-formal agricultural and rural education are provided throughout the country. Both entities use multimedia formats that combine ICT and traditional media for information and educational purposes.

Dr McLean’s presentation highlighted the use of ICTs for open and distance learning (ODL). He referred to the five basic principles of rural learning outlined by FAO in 2001 as important starting points for efforts relating to ODL. These principles are that ODL should:

He also provided background to recent efforts in Asia and the Pacific region, under Commonwealth of Learning (COL) support, where five institutions involved with ODL were developing case studies on basic practices regarding the use of ODL for agricultural development and rural poverty reduction. Themes arising from the studies include: the importance of networking and partnerships; having appropriate technologies; integrating practical experiences into the curriculum; the importance of infrastructure; and ensuring cultural sensitivity. The findings from the case studies will be widely disseminated via publications, presentations at meetings and conferences and via a dedicated Web site.

Mr Riggs presented the Information Management Resource Kit (IMARK) for capacity building that is currently available in two modules: “Management of electronic documents” and “Digitization and digital libraries”. These and other modules in the pipeline are free of charge via the IMARK Web site (http://www.imarkgroup.org) as online applications or, where there are bandwidth limitations, on a free CD-ROM. They are targeted primarily for the informal learning of intermediaries.

In the question and answer session, the main issue that was addressed related to ODL, especially the importance of ensuring parity with conventional education systems through the provision of quality education offerings. It was also emphasized that ODL provided educational access for many, including rural dwellers, with flexibility – also an important attribute of ODL.

Session 6: Innovative practices for networks

Two papers were presented in this session:

  1. “Networks for lifelong learning and rural poverty reduction in Asia – Lessons and challenges” by Dr Krishna Alluri, Education Specialist from the Commonwealth of Learning (COL); and
  2. “Sustainable rural networking in the Solomon Islands: PFNet’s experience” by Mr Randall Biliki, Manager of People First Network (PFNet), Solomon Islands.

Dr Alluri’s paper on networks for lifelong learning and rural poverty reduction was co-authored with K. Balasubramanian and Ajit Maru, also from the COL. The presentation began with the argument that targeted investments backed by donor aid need not be the only way of breaking the poverty trap as proposed by development guru Jeffrey Sachs. It elaborated on the case of the Lifelong Learning of Farmers (L3 Farmers) Project initiated by the Commonwealth of Learning through extensive consultations, research and review. The project, conducted in Tamil Nadu, India, had the following objectives:

According to Dr Alluri, the project addressed the following issues: creating opportunities for the target group to enhance their knowledge base and minimize transaction costs of the vertical and horizontal transfer of knowledge; demonstrating that ICT-based ODL can help bring down the transaction costs; identifying appropriate options for rural ICT that are not limited to a project mode; developing a self-sustaining and self-replicating process through a network of stakeholders involving consortia of universities and research institutions, the banking sector, private industries and government and non-government agencies; creating opportunities for sustained rural credit that supports a framework for such a process, with a hypothesis that rural agricultural credit blended with appropriate capacity building would greatly enhance the performance of rural credit vis-à-vis productivity, returns and non-performing assets (NPA) levels; building capacity to enlarge the market for bank credit among the target group; demonstrating that modern ICT structures (e.g. rural Internet kiosks, rural telecentres) can facilitate the capacity building process in a spatial-temporal context that is financially viable, economically feasible and socially acceptable.

The second paper, presented by Mr Randall Biliki, described the experience of PFnet in the Solomon Islands. This has been running since it was established by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in early 2001. The network aims to promote and facilitate equitable and sustainable rural development and peacebuilding by enabling better information sharing and knowledge building among and across communities forming the Solomon Islands. The project has established a wireless e-mail network based on sustainable community ownership and is now working with partners to develop applications in many sectors, including distance education, farmer’s market information and networking, grassroots news, business and market advisory, consultations on constitutional and policing reform, rights awareness and women’s networking and disaster management. Institutionally, the project is now an activity of the Rural Development Volunteers Association (RDVA) in partnership with the Ministry for Provincial Government and Constituency Development.

The PFnet system, offering basic e-mail services, seeks to improve connectivity while dramatically reducing the prices of communication, making it affordable for low-income users and sustainable over time. As a basic utility to other activities, this affordable telecommunication and information network has now assisted the country, particularly low-income groups, in taking charge of their own development through improved logistics, information and knowledge. Particular attention is given to gender equity and democratic governance. This is in concrete terms what bridging the digital divide means to the Solomon Islands. Now after nearly five years PFnet has established 25 rural points of e-mail access since October 2001 and operates an Internet café that provides broadband Internet and e-mail access to the public in the capital, Honiara, for various purposes including business and contacting family and friends.

PFnet has two distinguishing features. The first one deals with the use of point-to-point communication for peacebuilding or postconflict situations. The second is the application of ICT for disaster management and preparedness. Recent events have highlighted the importance of peacebuilding and disaster management. Very few countries in Asia and the Pacific region have been left untouched by conflict. Moreover, natural calamities, particularly those that struck Asia in 2004, have dramatized the importance of preparedness.

Session 7: Innovative practices for supporting national development

The two papers presented are:

  1. “Information service practices in rural China” by Ms Zhong Yongling, Deputy Chief of the Information Analysis Division of the Ministry of Agriculture Information Center, Ministry of Agriculture, the People’s Republic of China; and
  2. “Best ICT infrastructure for the South Pacific countries – USPNet” by Mr Kisione Wesley Finau, Director for Information Technology Services of the University of the South Pacific (USP), Fiji.

Ms Zhong presented three models of rural information services implemented in the People’s Republic of China: the service station model; the farmers’ home model; and the association model. Relying on agricultural departments and sections, China has set up information management and service organizations at national, provincial, prefecture, county, township and village levels. These organizations use computers, the Internet and other modern information dissemination resources as well as traditional information dissemination media such as television, radio, telephone, publications, briefing notes and blackboards to provide information services to farmers. These information centres now cover 100 percent of the provinces, 97 percent of the cities and 80 percent of the townships. Significant improvements in income have been observed in townships with very active information service centres.

The service station model is an information service centre that is government-driven and provides general information on the widest range of content areas. It links government offices at the county, township and village levels and is capable of moving information and knowledge to and from farmers. The farmers’ home model is an information service centre located in a “farmer’s home,” a complex that, among other things, supplies agricultural inputs such as seeds, pesticides, fertilizers; serves as a venue for agricultural exhibits; doubles as a trade centre for wholesale and retail products; and provides expert services on agricultural production. The association model limits its service to providing information to members of a farmers’ association. However, its range of information services is comprehensive, covering technical, market and policy concerns. Each model has features that may be replicated under similar conditions.

The second paper, by Mr Finau, dealt with the University of South Pacific Network (USPNet). The University of the South Pacific (USP) was established in 1968 and is one of only two regional universities in the world. It is based in Fiji and jointly owned by the governments of 12 countries: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Students from all these countries attend USP. The establishment of USPNet using very small aperture terminal (VSAT) technology was essential to meet the needs of the member countries, enabling students separated by oceans to do courses by video, audio and Internet modes. The same infrastructure may be used for agriculture and rural development in the South Pacific.

The distinguishing feature of USPNet is its sustainability and its ability to accommodate future growth. ICT systems have failed simply because they could not be sustained and maintained. USPNet is a model of sustainability, since after six years it is still operating despite various cyclones, political crises, and the growth in demand. USPNet’s infrastructure is the biggest network in the region. It covers all member countries from the Marshall Islands in the north to Tokelau in the south, from the Solomon Islands in the west to Cook Islands in the east.

V. Group work on a framework for action and presentations

The workshop participants were divided into three working groups.

Their objectives were:

  1. to develop a strategic framework on ICT for rural learning and knowledge sharing; and
  2. to establish a community of practice cum international support group on education for rural people in Asia and the Pacific region.

The expected output was a strategic framework consisting of strategic thrusts (policies, agenda, priorities, project concepts) guided by the five basic principles of rural learning and the eight critical success factors in ICT4D elucidated under the Bridging the Rural Digital Divide framework. These thrusts were categorized from the beginning by all participants into three key areas: capacity building, content and networking and were the basis of the three working groups.

Presentation of group outputs and discussion

Representatives of each of the three groups made presentations. Highlights of the presentation from each group included the following issues and priorities requiring attention:

1. Capacity building

2. Content

3. Networking

Discussions following each of the three group presentations and in the summary session were substantive and lengthy. Although it became clear that all participants are active leaders in the application of ICT for rural development and education, the individual mandates of the organizations under which they work, their seniority and their own fields of emphasis vary widely.

As a compromise it was determined that the best way forward was to field as many specific issues and ongoing projects as possible, and then allow the individuals present to consider and follow up in smaller groups (representing two or three organizations) to initiate potential collaboration on ongoing programmes or new project concepts.

The framework for action

After each of the three working groups developed a set of key issues and priorities, all of the participants met together again to bring cohesion and a unified voice to the three thrusts. They noted that the three issues are complementary and although different individuals and organizations will focus, more or less, on any one of the three thrusts, the advancement of each is necessary for ICT in agriculture and rural development to have the greatest possible impact in the region.

The discussion led the participants to map out a matrix as shown in Appendix III. This exercise initiated the process of identifying key issues under each thrust, linking these issues to the priorities and work plans of organizations, identifying ongoing initiatives that already function to support these key issues and indicating future leaders to take these issues forward.

Within the framework are several ongoing activities that offered potential areas for collaboration between organizations represented at this meeting. These were seen as the first priority action points for individuals to follow up on as they presented ongoing work and projects within existing work plans. Beyond this, many possibilities for future collaboration and new actions began to take shape, but as they would bring new activities they would require more time for discussion and integration into various organizations’ priorities and work plans.

VI. Field trip to observe ICT empowering rural communities and youth

A field trip to three sites in Nakhon Pathom Province, Thailand was organized by FAO-RAP and Thai RuralNet to create awareness of some innovative uses of ICT in Thailand by rural youth and traditional institutions, to expose participants to agriculture, the context for ICT in Thailand, and for sharing, learning and continued networking.

  1. Preedaram Wittayakom School. This is a middle school where a mobile ICT training unit(a bus) belonging to Wat Chonglom is used as a training centre where ICT tutoring is provided to the students by monks from Wat Chonglom.The Wat has two mobile units that were fabricated in Thailand at a cost of two million Thai Baht (about US$50000) and have been operating for the past five years to supplement ICT teaching to five high schools that have limited facilities and limited teacher expertise.
  2. Thanat Samakhee 4-H Youth Club representatives, based in the Thanat sub-district in Ratchaburi Province gave a brief presentation on the youth club’s activities, including those related to ICT. The club is one of the most successful 4-H clubs in Thailand. FAO-RAP, Thai RuralNet and Wat Chonglom have had association with the club via a case study and other activities, including an ICT capacity building project.
  3. A privately run community learning centre and a wine company.
  4. Various orchards (coconuts, mangoes, guavas, mountain apples, etc.), vegetable and spice/herb production gardens, and ornamental plant production sites (orchids, pot plants and nursery culture).

VII. Recommendations of the meeting

The workshop participants made the following three major recommendations:

  1. The eight critical success factors in ICT4D and the five basic principles of rural learning have commonalities and should now constitute the eleven Guiding Principles for ICT that the participants can adopt in their work.
  2. These Guiding Principles should be discussed within individual work plans, with opportunities to be identified to validate further the principles and document the lessons learned through case studies. The Guiding Principles will also be incorporated in the action plans/programmes that will be developed around each of the three strategic thrust categories (capacity building, content, and networking).
  3. Although international standards and applications for management of agricultural information systems and information exist, there is a need to harmonize the ongoing yet decentralized efforts, and to expand collaboration and partnership in the development and/or adoption of appropriate standards at national, regional and global levels to ensure that knowledge sharing is not hindered.

1 See http://www.fao.org/rdd for details.

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