Communication for development Knowledge

Posted September 1996

The Internet and Rural Development: Recommendations for Strategy and Activity

Preface and Acknowledgements

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

This report summarizes the results of an Electronic Communication and Information Systems fact-finding mission supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) ( in collaboration with the Department of Rural Extension Studies at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada ( The mission was organized through FAO's Programme of Cooperation with Academic and Research Institutions, and FAO's Sustainable Development Department's "Electronic Information Systems" working group, with funding from FAO and the University of Guelph.

The fact-finding mission took place between March and July of 1996, during which time I met with individuals and organizations in Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, Italy, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Senegal, Egypt, Mexico and Chile.

Silvia Balit of the Sustainable Development Department at FAO chose a particularly appropriate moment in the history of the Internet to arrange for my mission. Internet services are emerging at an accelerated pace in developing countries, pushed largely by the demands of businesses, universities, non-governmental organizations and young professionals. Two years ago, few would have predicted the current service availability within Africa and Latin America. Indeed, some development planners remain unaware of the extent of Internet coverage, and continue to argue that the Internet is not an appropriate tool for supporting development. I can only urge them to look at what is happening in countries such as Zambia (

Many pioneers and proponents of the Internet for agricultural and rural development were interviewed for this study, and I would like to express my thanks to them for their time and for the wealth of information they provided. Their enthusiasm and dedication are contagious. The following people worked very closely with me and special thanks are due to them for the support, assistance and vision they provided: David Balson, IDRC; Greg Searle, IDRC; Paul O'Nolan, ISNAR; Ricardo Ramirez, ILEIA; Jonathon Villet FAO-Zimbabwe; George Mburathi, FAO-Zambia; Mike Jensen, SangoNet; Mark Bennett, ZAMNET; Edouard Tapsoba, FAO-Senegal; Alioune Camara, IDRC-Senegal; Moussa Fall, ENDA-Dakar, Senegal; Ahmed Rafea, National Project Manager, UNDP/ MOALR/FAO Expert Systems for Improved Crop Management Project , Cairo; Dr. Mohamed Shafie Sallam, Director, Agricultural Extension and Rural Development Research Institute (AERDRI), Cairo; Mohamed Abul Magd, International Consulting Bureau, Egypt; Bob Broughton, McGill University & CIDA-ISAWIP, Egypt; Gamal Abdel-Rahman, Cairo University; Rodrigo Santa Cruz, FAO Representative, Mexico, Mexico City; Emilio Canton, FAO-Mexico; Aida Albert, FAO-Mexico; Angelica Santos Navorro, UINFORMA Mexico; Santiago Funes, FAO Regional Office, Chile; Luis Masias, FAO-Chile; Federico Salzmann, FAO-Chile; Arnoldo Rosenfeld, FAO-Chile; Manuel Calvelo Rios, FAO-Chile; Solange Zalaquett, FAO-Chile; Francine Brossard, FAO-Chile; and Jean Vicq, FAO-Chile. Gerry Kenny and Kim Hendi of the Canadian International Development Agency provided some last minute insights that found their way into the final version of this report.

Several of these people spent many hours and days with me, guiding me, accompanying me on field trips and putting up with my endless questions. I am particularly grateful to the farmers of Mexicali, Mexico and Putaendo, Chile who proved to me that locally organized and managed Internet communication services for rural communities and farmers'organizations are powerful development tools when they are created through a communication for development approach.

At FAO in Rome I was able to collaborate with many people who shared with me their innovative ideas and visions, and who provided a great deal of logistical support. In particular, I wish to thank Stein Bie, Silvia Balit, Tito Contado, Riccardo del Castello, David Dion, Loy Van Crowder, Jacques Sultan, Philippe VanderStichele, Lydda Gaviria, Jon Anderson, Rosalaura Romeo, Kate Dunn, Marilyn Hoskins and all the members of the Electronic Information Systems working group. Tomas Rico-Mora of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) ( provided excellent comments on an earlier draft of this report.

I must also thank many of my friends, colleagues and students at the University of Guelph. Dr. Doug Pletsch, Chair of the Department of Rural Extension Studies, agreed to put up with my long absence and helped manage my work in my absence. Members of the TeleCommons Development Group (TDG - at the University of Guelph, who have worked for years supporting Internet services for rural, remote and agricultural communities, were co-participants in this mission, if only by virtue of their constant availability for email discussions and brainstorming. TDG members Paul Graham, Darren Marslan, Linda Mayhew and David Johnston were always "on-line" when I needed them. Helen Aitkin of TDG deserves special thanks for managing my endless stream of email, and providing continuous logistical support. Darren Marslan of TDG managed the Canadian Agriculture Farm and Food Extension Information Network and Exchange (CAFFEINE: and our Ontario Agriculture Homepage ( Linda Mayhew of TDG managed our Internet Use in Rural Areas Survey (

I am also grateful to the many people with whom I work in supporting improvements in rural and remote telecommunication services in Canada. Rob Lindsay and Helga McDonald of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (, my colleagues at the Internet consulting company (http://www., David Reid from Industry Canada's Community Access Project (, my colleagues assisting in the organization of Canada's first "Rural and Remote Telecommunication Conference" ( (November 13 - 15, 1996) and Barbara Brownell from Wellington County FreeSpace community electronic network ( all deserve thanks for their continuing support.

Finally, I am especially grateful to my wife, Karen Kennedy, who agreed to put up with my long absences (and who even moved our belongings from one house to another while I was in Chile!), and who interrupted her work to accompany me for some memorable travel in Southern Africa. Gracias Tortuga!

Don Richardson
July 1996

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