"...mobile Apps alone as a tool don’t mean much, but coupled with essential information they can be a good innovation.." an Interview with Mr. Cezar Alvarez Santos
e-Agriculture team interviewed Cesar Santos Alvarez, Senior Information Technology Officer at FAO after his attendance to the WSIS 2017 and he shares his experiences and also sheds light on the on the Agricultural Services and Digital inclusion project in Africa. A project that is piloting 4 new apps.
"...mobile apps alone as a tool don’t mean much, but coupled with essential information they can be a good innovation.." an Interview with Mr. Cezar Alvarez Santos
Tell us briefly about your recent work in ICTs for agriculture
What I call ICTs for agriculture are agricultural digital services. Mobile phones provide direct services to the farmer in a simple language. Mobiles can support their farming practice and literacy. Although mobile phones can be very useful, we think they should be supported by extension services and national policies in providing information. Mobile Apps alone as a tool don’t mean much, but coupled with essential information they can be a good innovation. This area is new for FAO, and we are putting our tremendous technological knowledge into developing helpful services for our member countries.
You recently participated at WSIS 2017, what is your take on WSIS, FAO and the future of this engagement?
I think that FAO commitment in WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society) is essential for our digital strategy. Being part of the WSIS makes us work together with other international organizations in achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which by the way are connected to the FAO 5 Strategy Objectives. In the WSIS, FAO has the chance to contribute to the broader UN System. FAO has been working together with ITU (International Telecommunication Union) and the Director General asked us to work with UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization). Our work focuses also in ICTs in Youth in Africa and supporting Agro-value chains, so you can see our mandate is expanding. Overall, being at WSIS and receiving inputs there was very important for our work.
You are leading a CIO project in building four new agricultural service apps in Africa, what is the expected impact and any future expectations?
Once I was working in Rwanda someone said: “Mobile Apps don’t work!” I asked why and the person explained that from his point of view they don’t use local content and the real needs of farmers. Therefore, these new apps have been developed with the inputs of the people in the field but they will have to be supported by farming information, technology and systems. We now started with these four apps, but we can expand the project. Currently we are working with a company in Germany that developed an app called Plantix, helping farmers detect and cure plant diseases just by sending a photo. This is a kind of service that connects farmers to extension services and farmers to neighbor farmers.
Any other comments about ICTs and their application in Agriculture?
I have no doubt that if ICTs are done in a good way, they will help agricultural workers, but ICTs by themselves cannot do everything. ICTs can improve extension services, peer-to-peer knowledge among farmers, inform on best practices and help farmers to make better farming decisions. ICTs can help inform farmers on market prices and climate information for example, and in a broader sense ICTs can improve the agricultural transformation in terms of value chains.