Date: 
June 9, 2014

The Drum BeatThe Drum Beat - 665 - The Future of ICTs for Agriculture

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This issue includes:
BACKGROUND: ICT4Ag Competition and Conference
WORDS FROM THE 6 WINNERS: Cutting-Edge Tech and Agriculture
WHERE TO GO FOR MORE: ICT and Ag on The CI and Soul Beat
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"Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are among the most effective drivers of agricultural growth and transformation in African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries." These words from The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) capture the heart of discussions that took place at the November 2013 International Conference on ICT4Ag, organised by The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.

This Drum Beat shares observations and insights from 6 young journalists who attended the conference, which was held in Kigali, Rwanda. These journalists had answered a call from CTA for entries from those working for print and online media in ACP countries to participate in a competition designed to showcase success stories, highlight best practices, and shed light on challenges and opportunities for facilitating the contribution of ICTs to agriculture.

These 6 journalists were selected as semi-finalists and invited to the conference, which was attended by 550 people. They had been drawn to Kigali with the invitation to:

  • "Have your say in how to establish a dynamic and enabling environment where ICTs for agriculture (farming, fisheries and livestock) can flourish. Be part of the debate as we discuss topics such as ICTs and value chains, advocacy and policy development, and assessing the impact of ICTs.
  • Discover new innovations; learn about cutting-edge technologies and share exciting experiences as we bring together ICT experts from around the globe...
  • Network among representatives from private and public sectors, civil society, farmers and community organisations, development practitioners, academics, entrepreneurs, developers, application and system providers, telecom operators, innovators, information specialists, technology intermediaries, policy makers, researchers and enablers from all around the world."

For more on the conference, including highlights, video interviews, and descriptions of the sessions, visit the CTA website.

The dossier featuring articles written by winners of the ICT4Ag media competition is featured in the April-May edition of SPORE, CTA's magazine for agricultural and rural development in ACP countries. Click here to access it.

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ARTICLES AND BLOGS THAT EMERGED FROM 6 ICT4ag JOURNALISTS
1. First-place winner Joshua Masinde comes from Kenya, where he works as a business and economic affairs journalist for the Daily Nation. His interests include but are not limited to the financial markets, agriculture, the stock market, the economy, the banking sector, foreign exchange, enterprise, and personal finance.
  • Digital Revolution: A Value Addition Platform to the Agricultural Ecosystem - As Masinde explains, during the conference, innovators showcased approximately 40 ICT solutions (mobile, video, web, and radio, applications - apps) addressing different aspects of the agricultural value chain in ACP countries. Through his interviews with some of those involved in these ICT efforts, Masinde learned that these new tools are "empowering farmers and producers...by providing information on production practices, inputs, prices, markets, and weather." For instance, in Kenya, there are about 25 agricultural apps listed by the ministry of agriculture that offer credible information and act as extension services by providing information to farmers with access to mobile phones even in very remote areas of the country. Some of them have created a network of young Facebook farmers as a marketplace of ideas and transactions.
  • ICT for Agriculture Applications Need a Rethink - "The increasing digitisation of agriculture has however, raised a lot of questions, many of which touch on issues of sustainability of the applications, the nature and quality of the information provided, youth and women engagement in digital agriculture among others. Some experts have also raised important concerns on whether the proliferation of...platforms in different forms like web, mobile, video, is a bubble that is just about to burst. Is the hype on the significance of such applications in transforming rural agriculture too much and are there too many duplicate applications?"
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2. Inoussa Maïga from Burkina Faso aims to approach journalism from a different angle, placing the focus on the opinions, feelings, and know-how of the farmer. A member of Groupe de Recherche et d'Action sur le Foncier (GRAF), he also holds the position of President of the Association of Journalists of Burkina Faso and Agricultural Communicators (ABJCA) and Deputy Secretary General of the Network of Journalists for responsible and sustainable fisheries in Africa Western (REJOPRAO). He also writes a blog, Googol Farmer.
  • Bet on Complementarity [Parier sur la complémentarité] - Maïga's overall reflection on the conference is that the use of ICT to share real-time information, reach end users, and collect data is a phenomenon that is gaining popularity. But, he says, the impact of ICTs on the lives of farmers is still unproven. In an effort to ensure that ICT has a sustainable impact in the lives of farmers, he explains, some organisations have reportedly drawn on the complementarity of different ICT tools. In June 2013, Farm Radio International and HarvestPlus TracFM Uganda launched a radio drama series entitled "My Children". The series combines nutrition and agricultural education with an entertaining plot, helping to educate Ugandans on vitamin A deficiency. The goal is to convince farmers to replace traditional varieties of sweet potato with a more nutritious variety. The question posed on the radio show may be, for example: "Have you used the orange-fleshed sweet potato? If YES leave a missed call on the first issue and if NOT leave a missed call on the second number." The radio host receives the votes in real time on a computer.
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3. Alain G. Lietbouo is a young online journalist from Cameroon. Since 2011, he has worked as a content manager at CYNOMEDIA, editor of the online newspapers, journalducameroun.com, journaldutchad.com. journaldebrazza.com, journaldugabon.com, and journadebangui.com. He is also a correspondent for the central Africa African daily online newspaper afrik.com.
  • Agriculture and ICT in Africa: An Adventure Continues on the Road to Success [Agriculture et TIC en Afrique: Une aventure qui continue sur les rails du succès] - During the Plug and Play component of the conference, 20 youth organisations presented to the public the latest technological tools in the agriculture sector. Providing appropriate mobile content, access to agricultural information, and interaction with small producers were among other themes addressed. One presenter was 26-year-old Yacouba Dao of Burkina Faso, member of an association that created an app called AGRICO that aims to facilitate data management within an agricultural cooperative by centralising data (producers, employment contracts, agricultural inputs, etc.) in a computer database, thereby producing statistics. For his part, young Cameroonian developer Nguena Tsafack invented AGRO SIM, a stimulator that provides specific information to farmers. The user simply puts it in the ground, and all the weather information, types of suitable product, etc., will be immediately sent to the farmer via his or her mobile phone.
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Facts Presented at the International Conference on ICT4ag
Are you curious about by the level by which the number of mobile connections in Africa has grown over the past 10 years? Do you wonder how many rural women have been trained to carry out computer management of their peasant organisations in Cameroon? For answers to these and other questions you might have about ICTs and agricultural trends, please see also this summary, which includes statistics and trends shared by 4 of the winning journalists.
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4. Third-place winner Fidelis Zvomuya is from Zimbabwe. He began his career in 2000 with the BBC. Currently, Fidelis is the editor responsible for agriculture, environment, and development issues at Agriconnect Communication Media. He is also founding editor of an online media house, Africa Green Media.
  • ICT Can Cut Africa's Food Import Bill - Hailu - Reflecting on the words of CTA Director Michael Hailu and other contributors to the conference, Zvomuya describes some of the discussions that took place there related to the use of ICT in the agricultural field in ACP countries. For instance, Hailu said there is no reason for Africa to import so much food; he believes that IT can play a key role in resolving this issue, at the same time creating employment as well as stemming the migration of people from rural areas into cities. Dr. Agnes Matilda Kalibata, Rwanda's Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, reminded the audience of the significance of agriculture in poverty reduction, saying that ICT plays a key role. Michael Ryan, the head of the European Union (EU) Delegation to Rwanda, said that investing in ICT for agriculture is not only an opportunity for policymakers to have a direct link with rural farmers but also an opportunity for rural farmers to have direct links to markets and commodity prices for sustainable agriculture.
  • Agriculture technology meets Old MacDonald's - "According to Dr. Agnes Matilda Kalibata, Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, through ICTs, rural women can be used as agents of development. In an interview during the ICT4Ag conference held in Kigali, Dr. Kalibata said women farmers' development is a complex process which needs participation in developmental activities that shape their lives. 'They are keepers of agricultural and health-related knowledge. ICTs can enable the participation of women in the developmental projects to alleviate poverty, provide them with education.
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5. Second-place winner Arison Mbuli Tamfu from Cameroon works as African Correspondent for MALAYSIA MSME News Network, an online news portal. He has also been reporting for the News Network since 2012. In addition, he is the Cameroonian-based Editor for Cameroonjournal, a daily online publication based in the United States.
  • Harvesting from ict4ag Conference - In the assessment of Tamfu, several countries are moving from subsistence agriculture to profitable sustainable agriculture using ICTs; "the conference was rich in that regard with discovery of emerging innovations and focus on capacity building and enabling environment." For example, out of Kenya, iCow is a mobile phone app that helps small-scale farmers maximise their returns by providing advice on how to take care of the cows (information relating to calf health and nutrition, etc.). The farmers then access the information by subscribing to receive three SMSs a week at a cost of US$ 0.034 each per text. Susan Kahumbu Stephanou, CEO of iCow, claims that farmers' incomes have increased by US$30 per month, and milk production has stepped up from 2 to 3 litres daily "thanks to the service".
  • Dead and Resurrected - "Catherine Mojoko Molua, founder and president of Walana Wa Makwasi (women in action), a grassroots organisation founded in 2001 to boost the agricultural and technological skills of smallholder farmers in South West region of Cameroon,... presented her project at the ict4ag Conference in Rwanda, Kigali. 'The magic here is the mobile phone. We taught the smallholder farmers how to make a call and how to send an SMS in order to get vital information in real time. For the very first time they were able to get information relating to planting season, know when to apply fertiliser and what quantity and importantly how to bargain with buyers,' explained Mojoko....It is unfortunate that despite the growing interest in African rural farmers in ICTs, they are handicapped by illiteracy. A problem, Mojoko said, 'needs to be redressed urgently by sending coordinators to teach them.'"
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6. Sandra Chao is a Kenyan-based science journalist currently working with the Nation Media Group. She is accredited by the Media council of Kenya and is currently attached to the Africa review desk (africareview.com). Sandra is passionate about reporting stories on health, agriculture, environment, science, and technology - with a penchant toward human interest pieces.
  • Hi farmers, anyone with ideas on how to improve clay soil for farming? - "From the time that Gerishom Boiyo has been involved in promoting the use of information and communication systems for agriculture in the Western parts of Kenya, he has noticed a positive trend. 'Young people who once looked at agriculture as dirty are becoming more interested in the opportunities ICTs have to offer. Even though we advocate for the use of ICTs across the board, we are seeing the youth prefer online and social media content, unlike the older farmers who are keener on videos,' he said. Joseph Macharia, the founder of Mkulima Young, however, notes that it is not the total absence of young farmers that is the problem, rather the failure to highlight the few who are successfully living of agribusiness. 'At the end of the day it is about money we need to create celebrities similar to those we find in the music and entertainment scenes in order to attract the young people. Give them these success stories on social media because that is where you can easily find them and you will be able to create interest,' he said. Investing in platforms for the young people that have targeted content and are fully driven by their peers, not just for Kenya but the continent as a whole, he adds, would enable them to have hope and be more driven in the ventures they choose to set up."
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WHERE TO GO FOR MORE:
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This issue of The Drum Beat was written by Kier Olsen DeVries.
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The Drum Beat is the email and web network of The Communication Initiative Partnership - Partners: ANDI, BBC Media Action, Bernard van Leer Foundation, Breakthrough, Calandria, Citurna TV, DFID, Eldis, FAO, Fundación Imaginario, Fundación Nuevo Periodismo, Heartlines, Iberoamericano (FNPI), IFPRI, Inter-American Development Bank, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs, MISA, Open Society Foundations, Oxfam Novib, PAHO, The Panos Institute, Puntos de Encuentro, The Rockefeller Foundation, SAfAIDS, Sesame Workshop, Soul City, STEPS International, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, USAID, The Wellcome Trust, World Health Organization (WHO), W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

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The Editor of The Drum Beat is Kier Olsen DeVries.
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