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September 2004

Georgia: ICT infrastructure and use in agriculture

Published by the FAO Regional Office for Europe

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Summary

The FAO commissioned study ‘Georgia: ICT Infrastructure and Use in Agriculture, Agricultural Policy, Research, and Education Organizations’ (Temel, T. & Maru, A., 2003 ) seeks to assess the needs of national agricultural research institutions and their relevant partners for innovative, appropriate, and efficient information and communication systems and linkages in Georgia. Including in the ICTs category are radio, television, printing press, telephony, fax, computers, and the Internet. The study noted that there is already official recognition at an institutional level that the establishment and relevant use of an ICT infrastructure should be one of the country’s critical tools in the promotion of economic development (Presidential Decree No. 456). Recent positive initiatives by the Georgian Government towards the creation of an environment conducive to the implementation of a national ICT strategy have been listed in Table 1. Sector specific strategies and regulations concerning trade and investment in the ICT industry are still under elaboration.

The Present ICT infrastructure

Georgia has a modern and well-established Radio and Television Broadcasting Network which covers the entire region, comprising 17 radio stations with 2.4 million listeners and 45 television stations with 3.6 million viewers. However, neither of these media is utilized for the dissemination of information related to agriculture and rural extension initiatives. Institutional linkages with farmers through agricultural extension services are virtually non-existent. Moreover, there is a general decline in the public dissemination of agricultural information in Georgia; this is illustrated by comparing the publication of agro-information in the 1970s and 1980s (totalling over 500 publications per annually, including monographs, articles, patent specifications, reports, and dissertations) with the situation in the 1990s, where the comparative figure fell to 50.

The fixed line telephone network enjoys good coverage over the entire country, but the international tariffs are often discouragingly high. Waiting periods for the installation of a telephone line can take anything up to a year and the existing technology is outdated and costly to maintain. Services are slow, technical problems frequent and the standard of maintenance poor; all of these factors discourage Internet Service Providers from establishing high bandwidth links or dedicating Wide Area Networks. At the organizational level, Local Area Networks have been slow to emerge.

However, internet content, an essential component of the national ICT strategy, is developing rapidly. In 2000, more than 250 web servers and 4 000 hosts were operating in Georgia with between 200-250 resident domains in the Georgian language and 60 non-resident domains. In June 2003, the number of domains was 1 129. The Georgian Internet Sector is covered by 12 Internet providers. Seventy seven percent (77 percent) of internet connections are provided by four major companies: 52 percent by SANET (www.sanet.ge), 9 percent by Georgia-Online (www.rustaviz.com), and 8 percent each by ICN (www.caucasus.net), and Global-1 (www.global-erty.net).

At present, Georgia has about 150 000 personal computers for a population of 5.4 million, 90 percent of which contain Pentium CPUs. Availability of computers across sectors shows that the education sector ranks first with 9 000 computers, followed by the banking sector, with 4 800, and the health sector, with 1,050 computers.

There is no local producer of computer hardware or software. PC equipment is imported mostly from Asia, with resulting prices is out of range of most individuals and causing financially strain for at least 40 percent of private businesses. The other significant problem is that accompanying software is not locally adapted; only accounting and financial software are available in the local language.

ICT use

Internet availability is low, with regular internet users amounting to less than 4 percent of the population. Public internet access is provided in some libraries, Internet-cafes, and Internet clubs. The internet is not affordable for the majority of individuals and small businesses, whereas phones and faxes are commonly used by most businesses. Typically, a business contact is established and maintained through personal contacts, while e-mails are used to communicate with foreign partners because of high international telephone tariffs. Ninety percent of accounting operations in government and business are carried out by computers, due in part to the fact that Accounting is the only software package available in the Georgian language.

Almost all the government offices and most of the large businesses have some computers. Full computer access in universities is usually restricted to staff, while computer training and education in universities have only recently begun; therefore, teachers’ computer literacy is elementary. Tbilisi State University and Tbilisi Technical University offer courses in computer programming and information technology. Several private schools, donors, and commercial organizations also offer computer training and education. There are about 30 organizations, mostly concentrated in the capital of Tbilisi, which are specialized in computer services, training, and education.

Assessment of the ICT situation in Agriculture

Structured interviews, based on a questionnaire (appended to the full report), were used to gather information and assess ICT infrastructure and application in nine organizations which are part of or are connected to the National Agricultural Research System (NARS): seven belong to the public sector and one each to the private and NGO sector (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The surveyed organizations

ICTs at the institutional level

Institutional ICT infrastructures (hardware, software and skills) and their applications are described in detail in Tables 2 to 8 of the full report. The majority of institutions in the sector, including the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MoAF), the Georgian State Agrarian University (GSAU), the Georgian Academy of Agricultural Sciences (GAAS), the Research Institute of Horticulture, Viticulture & Winemaking (RIHVW) and the private Agribusiness University (AU) lack adequate telecommunication and computer facilities. This results in outdated, scarce or not readily available information provided by these institutions to researchers and other interested parties. The study showed that the biological farmers’ Association Elkana, and the Research Institute Techinformi, and to a lesser extent, the MoAF occupy relatively better positions as concerns ICT infrastructure. In relation to ICT content, applications, services, and management, however, only Techinformi and Elkana seem to be operating under promising conditions.

Most libraries at the concerned institutes, as well as public libraries, do not have up-to-date information sources, and where it is available, access is poor due to the lack of effective procedures and communication means. Scientific and technical information databases available in libraries and/or information departments of the research institutes under the GAAS and the MoAF are outdated. Most of these collections are in hard copies, and those few available electronically are of poor quality and accessible only to designated staff. There is also no procedure for inter-library loans.

Research data have not been organised electronically for sharing across research institutes. The ITC infrastructure is underdeveloped and the existing research data has not been properly sorted and standardised. Old administrative procedures are still applied in facilitating the flow of such data between institutes or between departments within an institute. Data management, such as standardisation, storage, transfer, and use, has not yet received adequate attention due in part to the lack of electronic research data. Existing records are available in hard copies but they are not in standard formats. Among the key constraints are the lack of suitable hardware and software, the lack of skilled human resources, and the lack of research priorities.

Access to international information is constrained mainly by the absence of adequate ICT infrastructure and personnel with foreign language and computer literacy. Poor contacts with international publishers also hinder the access to the international scientific and technical literature. Relations with international libraries are not established, mainly due to the lack of staff with foreign language skills and general under-funding.

Almost all the Institutes and libraries covered in the study and listed above indicated that they needed improved telecommunication and more computers with access to the Internet (see Table 2). The reasons indicated for this need were to establish research partnerships with regional, national, and international organizations, promote agricultural extension services, generate and access new agricultural information and knowledge.

At the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) level

Communication through the network of the NARS, inter-institutional information exchange through ICTs hardly takes place in Georgia. The main limiting factors behind this are poor electronic information content, the lack of necessary tools available, and the scarcity of skilled staff. Local demand for new scientific information is driven exclusively by international organizations, except for Techinformi. Most importantly, an understanding of the system processes and their benefits at the institute level is poor among the actors in the NARS.

Organizational management information is available largely in hard copy, precluding its sharing or detailed analysis at the NARS level. Departments have their own databases, which need to be standardised for effective use in agricultural policy making. Furthermore, limited information exchange between the MoAF and the GAAS diminishes the contribution of research to the policy design and vice versa.

Existing linkages between foreign partners and research institutes are based on joint project development and implementation. Most recently, the World Bank and the RIHVW have completed preparations for a joint project aimed at the rehabilitation of the Institute, within a much larger initiative to reform the Georgian agricultural sector. Similarly, ICARDA and the Institute of Farming are currently collaborating to prepare an inventory of plant genetic resources in Georgia. Linkages are also maintained with other international organizations, including USAID, TACIS, FAO, and universities and research centres in Israel, Turkey, Italy, USA, and Russia. Connectivity between national and international organizations is maintained by telephone, fax, and e-mail services. Electronic databases are rarely utilised in information exchange between the collaborating organizations, although databases of many international organizations are in the public domain. The study suggests a group of organizations, FAO among them, which could best contribute to an Agriculture Innovation System emphasizing ICT development.

The present ICT policies and capacities for knowledge transfer

Two key observations are immediate:

Firstly, except for RIHVW and Techinformi, the other public research and policy organizations surveyed indicate that constraints are overwhelming in every field: lack of national networking, lack of intra-organizational co-operation to establish an ICT infrastructure, poor language and computer skills of staff, scarcity of computers, outdated telecommunication technology and lack of political will (for details, see Table 2 , where grey cells represent the areas where the relevant Institute reported to have serious problems).

Secondly, the lack of national networking and co-operation between local and international organizations are perceived by all the Institutes as key constraints which need to be immediately addressed. Highlighting of these constraints can be perceived as expressing a desire for the growth of an information sharing culture. Such change in attitude is necessary if networks of experts, organizations and partnerships between public and private organizations are to be developed. Currently, inter-organizational information exchange hardly takes place due to lack of content, scarcity of skilled labour, and absence of intermediary organizations that would facilitate organizational linkages. This provides a justifiable reason for international organizations and NGOs (domestic and/or international) to be active in this area.

Main Conclusions

In spite of high expectations from the agro-industry sector as to its contribution to economic development, progress in ICT infrastructure and use of agricultural organizations has been limited due mainly to the absence of agricultural policy directions and the continuing reforms of agricultural policy and research organizations. The current situation is simply a reflection of all these adversities, and it can, to a significant extent, be remedied by a number of initiatives:

Despite the Government’s commitment to its ICT strategy at the policy level, financing has not been forthcoming, meaning the situation on the ground has made little progress. Sectoral action plans need to be put in place for the strategy to be truly implemented, in order not to jeopardise funding possibilities from donors and international organizations or discourage private sector investment in the ICT area. Partnerships or coalitions between public organizations, private firms, NGOs, consumers, farmers, and external assistance organizations need to be promoted with reduced poverty as their goals.

The public and private sectors need to co-operate towards creating a skilled labour force in order for both sections of society to prosper. Elements of such cooperation started to become available in the form of higher education courses in Information Technology and private company support of staff training. The Government can further speed up the building of a skilled labour force by providing economic incentives to encourage private investment, such as tax-exemption on ICT-related education costs.

Policy and decision-making capacities in newly established government units also need to be improved, with a clearer understanding of the interdependencies of policy instruments: e.g. an effectively operating intellectual property protection system can only bring investment in the ICT area if trade regulations are not prohibitive.

Main Recommendations

Considering the overall complexity and size of investments necessary to develop the whole ICT sector for NARS and agriculture, the following main recommendations are summarized for immediate action:

Table 1. Institutional developments in Georgia concerning ICTs

February 22, 1999

The Strategy for Attracting Investments and Developing Telecommunication Sector placing ICT within the general economic development goals.

July 26, 1999

Foundation of the Co-ordinating Council for the Development of ICT: aimed to co-ordinate all ICT activities.

December 21, 1999

Georgian State Department of Information Technology: aimed to manage information technology processes and carry out the co-ordination and state supervision in all spheres of state activity (www.georgia-gateway.org/gsdit or www.it-department.gov.ge).

July 25, 2000

>Department of Communication, Post, and Information Technologies (within the Ministry of Transport and Communication): aimed to implement the policy set by the Ministry and manage and control the activities in the area of communication and postal services (www.mtc.gov.ge).

August 17, 2000

State Commission for the Development of an Information Society: aimed to provide Internet access to all strategic state agencies and to promote the development of an information society.

September 18, 2000

Georgian National Communications Commission: aimed to promote a legislative basis and institutional capacity in the area of communications and postal services (www.gncc.ge).

July 8, 2001

State Council on ICT to develop national ICT strategies (www.georgia-gateway.org).

Table 2. Constraints on ICT infrastructure and use

Source: This table reports the interviewee’s answers to relevant questions in the Questionnaire for the FAO report, ‘Georgia. ICT Infrastructure and Use in Agriculture, Agricultural Policy, Research, and Education Organizations by T. Temel and A. Maru, 2003. Gray-colored cells indicate the constraints; blank cells indicate that corresponding items are not perceived as constraints.




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