Capacity building: Building capacity to leverage E-agriculture applications

15 Jun 2017 11:00h - 13:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]

This session, moderated by Dr Susan Teltscher (Head of the ICT Data and Statistics Division of the International Telecommunication Union’s Telecommunication Development Bureau) addressed the relationship between capacity building and developing e-agriculture applications. Teltscher stated that given the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), e-agriculture applications are expected to grow, and that the need to strengthen capacities will intensify because of people’s increased exposure to such applications.

Ms Imma Subirats (Senior Knowledge and Information Management Officer, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)) indicated that the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for agriculture, livestock, forestry and fisheries, plays an important role in the achievement of sustainable development goal #2 (SDG2). She stated that e-agriculture will transform food and agricultural systems through improved information and communication. She highlighted the importance of open data and open access in capacity building. She lamented current challenges including inadequate connectivity, limited general and digital literacy, and a lack of trust among farmers. She outlined three dimensions to capacity building: (a) individual targeting, (b) institutional targeting, and (c) enabling environment. She stressed the importance of community participation in developing e-agriculture initiatives, and working with multiple stakeholders. She highlighted FAO’s activities to train staff and develop monitoring and evaluation systems, including a strategic guide for countries intending to develop e-agriculture. She stated that governments needed to create enabling frameworks to facilitate these endeavours.

Mr Cliff Schmidt (Founder and Executive Director, Literacy Bridge and creator of the ‘Talking Book’) spoke about his 10-year experience in building agriculture capacity for the hardest-to-reach communities in Western Africa. He stated that the device, ‘Talking Book’, builds capacity in alignment with many SDG issues, including health and gender. He noted that smallholder farmers lived on one or two USD$ a day and did not have regular access to electricity or smart phones. He underscored that illiteracy among farmers prevented them from taking notes when visited by experts every couple of years. He spoke about sustainability challenges in delivering content. Schmidt highlighted that the ‘Talking Book’ was aligned to the objectives of other organisations focusing on behavioral change communication. The device facilitates data collection, and allows users to record messages and make queries directly into it. He stated that users often listened to the device in groups, and that the content offered varies.

Ms Dominique Lazanski (Public Policy Director, Government and Regulatory Affairs, Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA)) presented two applications, mAgri and mNutrition, and mentioned the GSMA’s current work on value-added services (VAS) for agriculture. Lazanski demonstrated the journey of Dialog, a Sri Lankan mobile operator, with which the GSMA collaborated. Sri Lanka has 81.5% rural population, high chemical use in agriculture, and attendant diseases and malnutrition among 22% women, with 26% children malnourished. She said that their programme met the needs of local customers owing to preliminary actions including (a) establishing operational structure with government, (b) developing a robust product team, (c) leveraging user experience, and (d) community engagement. Lessons learnt from the programme included reduction in chemical use, increased crop diversity, and changes in planting and harvesting practices.

Dr Marco  Zennaro (Researcher, International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Italy), shared his experiences with IoT-for-development (IOT4D) in Rwanda, Indonesia, and Thailand. He demonstrated that there were three inter-related activities in these interventions: training, deployment, and research. In summarising the lessons learnt from these experiences, he underscored that (a) rapid prototyping, (b) simple solutions, and (c) early involvement of field experts were critical to the success of the interventions.

Mr Muhaimin Iqbal (Founder and Chairman, iGrow Asia) demonstrated how the iGrow application integrated market, skills, and capital in view of Indonesia’s impending food difficulties. He posited that by 2030, more that two thirds of Indonesians will live in cities, and that the start of the G-zero era will mean that the importation of food will become very difficult globally. iGrow raised awareness about food sustainability and went from the market to the farmer to define the quality and quantity of food required. He mentioned that the platform leveraged crowdfunding, and that returns on agricultural investment in Indonesia were higher than in the US and Japan. He announced that he began talks with the ASEAN development bank to spread iGrow to other countries.


by Kevon Swift