Communication for development Knowledge

Posted September 1996

The Internet and Rural Development: Recommendations for Strategy and Activity

Executive Summary

Introduction | Table of Contents | Executive Summary | Preface/Acknowledgements | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Project suggestions | Bibliography/Resources | WWW sites | Glossary

"...the greatest potential of the technology lies in enabling us to do new things. This applies particularly to the people-centred approach to rural development. It calls for a review of priorities and goals by FAO. As many of the social prerequisites of sustainable development have fallen between rather than within any one of the traditional mandates of the UN technical agencies, new cooperative programs are called for to focus on these needs - using technology, the Internet, the World Wide Web..."

- Bernard Woods ("Ceres", The FAO Review, No. 158 - March-April 1996)

Internet use and Internet services are expanding rapidly in developing countries. This expansion is, however, largely an urban phenomenon. People in rural areas are generally unable to take advantage of the services available to their urban peers. This report draws attention to rural development initiatives made possible through Internet services. It highlights specific strategy and action that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) can adopt to insure that rural communities and rural stakeholders benefit from the wide variety of Internet initiatives being sponsored and funded by international development agencies and the private sector in developing countries. FAO has an historic opportunity to help direct Internet expansion, in partnership with other agencies and donors, to meet the needs of rural and agricultural communities in developing countries.

Many development agencies are assisting with the expansion of indigenously managed Internet services in developing countries. Among them, FAO has pioneered a "communication for development" approach for catalyzing Internet services for rural stakeholders, an approach that begins with the needs of people in rural and agricultural communities. This report recommends activity for FAO, including expanding the use of the "communication for development" approach to initiate pilot projects linked to indigenous rural and agriculture organizations. An overall strategy for FAO would support action to:

All Internet initiatives must engage, as full partners in strategy development and action, the intermediary agencies that serve rural communities with development assistance, advice, research, extension, education, health services and training. Internet strategies also need to be developed in conjunction with intended beneficiaries and stakeholders through participatory planning techniques.

FAO can begin collaborating with other agencies in the implementation of small pilot projects designed to foster indigenous and appropriate use of the Internet in support of rural development. Pilot projects will help establish "best practices," provide avenues for sharing "lessons learned," and act as vehicles for expanding the impact of Internet initiatives, and enhance coordination. Collaborators might include:

1. Existing Internet policy and action groups such as:

the African Networking Initiative (ANI) (supported through Unesco, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Bellanet); RedHUCyT (the Organization of American States (OAS) "Hemisphere-Wide Inter-University Scientific and Technological Information Network"; Capacity Building for Electronic Communication in Africa (CABECA) , funded through IDRC and executed by the Pan African Development Information System (PADIS) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)); the UN Secretary General's Special Initiative on Africa (Proposal for Harnessing Information Technology for Development); the Pan-Asia Networking (PAN) project (sponsored by IDRC); and the Africa Internet Forum (comprising of the World Bank, USAID's Africa strategy - the Leland Initiative -, the US State Department, NASA and the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Sustainable Development Networking Project.

2. Multilateral financial organizations such as:

the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) that can assist in the development of locally relevant market information systems, and financial assistance packages to support the development of Internet services for rural communities.

3. Multi-lateral and bi-lateral agencies

that can assist in co-ordinating and executing Internet activities for rural and agricultural development.

4. Non-governmental Organizations

that specialize in the application of Internet tools, and which can assist in providing technical support, training, and awareness building (eg. The Internet Society , Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA) , SangoNet , and the Pan African Development Information System (PADIS) ).

5. Private sector bodies

that can assist in developing appropriate technologies to provide rural and agricultural communities with Internet services, as well as providing low-cost or donated equipment to assist with project initiatives.

6. Educational institutions

that can support Internet activities in rural areas in collaboration with rural stakeholders.

Today we truly live in a global village, but it is a village with elite "information haves" and many "information have-nots." Adopting a proactive strategy, and acting to bring the Internet to rural and agricultural communities in developing countries will help enable rural people to face the unprecedented challenges brought on by the changing global economy, dynamic political contexts, environmental degradation and demographic pressures. To deal with these challenges, and to make critical decisions, people at all levels of society, and especially the food insecure and the organizations that serve and represent them, must be able to access critical information and communicate. Improved communication and information access are directly related to social and economic development (World Bank, 1995). Participatory development is fully dependent upon communication and information sharing processes.

FAO can take leadership to ensure that rural and agricultural communities link electronic "village trails" to the "information super-highway."

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