E-Agriculture

Question 1

Question 1

Many stakeholders agree on the strategic importance of developing a national e-agriculture strategy, while others may doubt the potential impact of such a strategy and raise concerns that many of the strategies that have been developed to date have not been implemented. Do you think that a “National E-agriculture Strategy” is needed? Why? How best can a strong case be made for its development?  

Welcome everybody to our online forum discussion! Today we are launching the first question of four to learn more about e-agriculture strategies, why they are needed, how they should look like and what we have learned from experiences with e-agriculture strategies and policies. 

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Mireille Nsimire
Mireille NsimireIITADemocratic Republic of the Congo

Thanks Alice, we look forward to start contributing on this forum.

Kind Regards

Mireille

Mireille Nsimire
Mireille NsimireIITADemocratic Republic of the Congo

Dear All,

Thanks for this first question concerning the need of National E-Agriculture Strategy. For me and my country  I strongly beleive that it is needed.

Current literatures suggest that the agriculture is a source of livelihoods for 86% of rural people in developing countries and it provides 1.3 billion jobs for small-scale farmers and landless workers. Moreover, the contribution of agriculture in growth of GDP in much more as compared to other sectors. In recent years, with the advent of ICT tools, potential contribution of ICT can be seen in achieving agricultural development objectives and contributing to broader economic, social and institutional development. ICT helps in growing demand for new approaches, business models, good practices and design guidance in agriculture and rural Development projects. Lot assistance is available for the farmers with the use of ICT.

The proper awareness and understanding about crops, seeds, fertilizers, marketing and other related information, are achieved through several media using ICT tools. ICT also helps in empowering the poor and rural people by providing better access to natural resources, improved agricultural technologies, effective production strategies, markets, banking and financial services; local and national policies related to agriculture etc. I thing this might help to make a proper case for an national e-agriculture strategy.

Mireille

Gerard Sylvester
Gerard SylvesterFAOThailand

A Strategy is a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim. 

The growth of ICTs in the last decade has been phenomenal - from the reach of mobile connectivity to the increase in speed of broadband, low-cost sensor, computing networks to cloud computing facilities. For agriculture, this has tremendous potential in increasing the capacity and livelihood opportunities of small-holder farmers and rural communities.

We have seen the introduction of many e-Agriculture projects/initiatives in many countries aimed at increased the efficiency and effectiveness of agricultural processes by using ICT in agriculture. However, a conservative estimate would note that only 20% of such initiatives move from the pilot stage to the sustainable phase. Mainstreaming many e-Agriculture initatives has been a major challenge faced by many countries. The reason for the this are many-fold - a lack of clear strategy and failure to take note of synergies in other sectors together with overlooking linkages with other parallel developments are often the reasons for that initative not being sustainable.

It is in this milieu that the need for an e-Agriculture strategy is strongly felt. An e-Agriculture strategy is developed taking the national agriculture strategy as a guiding framework.

Once a National e-Agriculture Strategy is developed in partnership with key stakeholders, it prevents ad-hoc creation/development of unsustainable e-agriculture initiatives and streamlines implementations at the national level in a much more sustainable manner.

 

Josh Woodard
Josh WoodardFHI 360Thailand

As with any application of technology, in their early days there is likely to be lots of experimentation and lots of failures. This is all part of the process towards mainstreaming the technology into society. The same is the case for e-Agriculture, although in this case we are actually talking about many different types of technologies (mobile services, remote sensing, radio, video, etc.).

The downside of all of the experimentation, is that it is often done in a way that is uncoordinated and inefficient, this is where a national strategy can help. It is important to note that such a strategy cannot be top down and driven by only one party. Doing so will not only make its adoption unlikley to yield benefits, but can also have negative effects by constraining innovation and experimentation. It needs to be developed using a collaboration process, that engages all stakeholders (from farmers to government agencies to the private sector). The output then becomes not a fiat as to how e-agriculture should be implemented in the country, but rather a shared vision from all stakeholders that can help them to reduce inefficiencies and maximize coordination.

The case for its development is all around. Just look at the uncoordinated efforts in e-agriculture in most countries, often resulting in a failure for e-ag to live up to its expectations in bringing wide benefits to farmers and throughout ag value chains. Now in fairness, even with a national e-ag strategy there will always be some shortfalls in terms of what is delivered and what is expected. Again though, if well done, a strategy is likely to yield greater returns on investments in e-ag in a country than uncoordinated efforts.

The idea of developing e-agriculture strategies is a very laudable one. This will bring about consistency and better coordination of actors in the e-ag sector for increased impact. Regional level e-agriculture strategy could be drafted but fine-tuned at the country level taking into considerations resource availability, commitment and availability of actors expecially private sector service providers and farmers. Ghana could benefit from such initiative. 

Edward Addo-Dankwa
Edward Addo-DankwaMinistry of Food and AgricultureGhana

An e-agricultural strategy truly has the tendency of bringing about consistency and better coordination in agricultural development if developed based on good-practice principles.  There is the argument for a regional level e-agriculture strategy as a precursor to the development of a national strategy.  Much as this could be a good strategy, there are ample examples to show that regional strategies do not necessarily result in country level strategies.  In most cases, if the regional level institutions do not have resources to support the country level strategy development, thus the success levels are normally very low.  On the other hand, if country level structures identify e-agricultural strategy as a priority and invest in it, they can develop implementable e-agricultural strategies.  Regional institutions like the ECOWAS could develop broad frameworks for the development of e-agricultural strategies for their sub-regions but they will have to secure strong by-ins from the member countries, and also have strong support structures to ensure success at the country levels.

Hani Eskandar
Hani EskandarInternational Telecommunication Union (ITU)Switzerland

While a strategy does not guarentee reaching out your objectives, with no strategy, you are almost sure not to!

Moving from pilots to scale is not an easy process. A strategy is essential to create the environment in which the right discussions and collaborations happen to initiate and support such process and more importantly, to respond to some of the key issues that impede the adoption and mainstreaming of ICT in Agriculture. Several questions need to be answered:

Who is supposed to adopt e-Ag; who should pay for it and who should decide on investment decisions; how to evaluate its impact; how to ensure consistency and consolidation of efforts rather than competing or duplicating; What are the priorities and what is the roadmap; what overall policies are required; who should steer and govern and how to make sure that the solutions respond to problems (rather than the opposite), etc.

One should see that the strategy developmet process itself has it own value that is almost as important as the strategy end product. This is where stakeholders come to know each others and when the real issues are discussed.

In several cases, what is needed is just few adjustments and some key decisions to be made by the right people to make it happen. The best innovations and best ideas can just be ignored because no one took ownership of them and no serrious discussion happened on how to best leverage those.

A strategy is a pretext for all this to happen.

 

Edward Addo-Dankwa
Edward Addo-DankwaMinistry of Food and AgricultureGhana

There is definitely no doubt about the fact that having an National e-agricultural strategy is critical for any nation that is serious about its agricultural development, and especially for development countries who claim agriculture is the sector with most contribution to their economic development.  As has already been expressed by earlier contributors, a National e-agricultural strategy has the potential of consolidating the impacts of the various e-agricultural tools being implemented, thus enhancing agricultural development.  Experiences however shows that the existence of a strategy does not guarantee its implementation.  There are many examples of many “fine” strategies that have been developed, but have never been implemented.  The beauty of a strategy is that it can be implemented to improve the living standards of its beneficiaries.   This implies that if a ‘fine’ strategy is developed but it is not implementable, or the strategy is not implemented to benefit the citizenry, then that strategy could be said to be “useless”, and would not be worth the energy and resources invested in its development. The current situation where there is an explosion of e-tools for agricultural development, it is essential to have an e-agriculture strategy that will coordinate all those activities.  The question however is, what makes a strategy implementable?  How do you make the strategy impact on the lives of its beneficiaries?  These questions I believe will be addressed in the second question on this forum

NANJAPUR YADURAJU
NANJAPUR YADURAJUIndividual- Agriculture ConsultantIndia

A subsistence farmer in a developing country typically grows crops- food, fibre, vegetables, fruit or plantation crops, rears animals and quite likely is involved in aquaculture or agroforestry. However, in many countries it’s often noticed that these sub-sectors are addressed administratively by different Ministries or Departments- each one working individually in their silos and trying to provide services and support to the same farmer.  Having a strategy could bring these organizations on one platform and help in coordinating their activities to serve the farmer better. This will ensure synergy, increase efficiency, avoid duplication of efforts and save money.      

The transformative power of ICTs  will be best realized when they are implemented as per a well-developed national e- Agriculture strategy.