Pacific Island countries call for more ICT support and understanding of its use in agriculture

By Solider Buruka

Agricultural researchers and information officers in the Pacific region have called for better understanding of the needs of Information and Knowledge Management (IKM) in developing the agriculture sector.

Participants at last week’s Information Communication Technology workshop in Fiji said there is an increasing need to empower agricultural officers with the necessary and relevant ICT tools to assist in disseminating information to the farmers and the public.

The representatives from 10 Pacific Island countries including PNG agreed that there are big challenges in agriculture within the region and called for more technical assistance from regional and international organisations in ICT.

They said that many of the island nations had limited resources for research and innovation and lacked the technical capacity to support ICT activities. They agreed that the Pacific region will have to face these challenges and move forward with other developing and developed nations in accepting ICT and IKM.

The participants, in their recommendations, raised a number of constraints including lack of capital, content, connectivity, collaboration, capacity, communication participation and culture of organisations. However, they also came up with a wide range of solutions to overcome these constraints.

These solutions included more advocacy for investment, public private community partnerships, use of low cost equipment, use of emerging media to facilitate collaboration, distance learning, involvement of communities, better accountability, investment in infrastructure, stakeholder networking, capacity building at different levels, advocacy to increases, awareness on benefits and use of ICT/IKM, involving NGOs and existing networks, micro-finance and many others.

Many participants showed particular interest in the use of emerging media including social media and web 2.0 as useful tools to facilitate collaboration amongst researchers, extension workers and farmers.

They agreed that mobile technologies, internet Wi-Fi and 3G cellular telephones, offer significant potential and new approaches to overcome some of the challenges and limitations currently faced responding to the needs of the farmers and stakeholders in information and knowledge management for agricultural development.

The four-day workshop entitled: “Moving beyond strategy to improve information and knowledge management for agricultural development” was organised and funded by the Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutes (APAARI), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Global Forum for Agriculture Research (GFAR), Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and Centre for Technical Agriculture Cooperation (CTA) which shared their expertise and knowledge on the advent of new information and communications technologies and global connectivity that provides the Pacific region with a number of potential solutions to these challenges.

The workshop heard from the PNG participants that the innovative approach by the Fresh Produce Development Agency in the use of the mobile phone to access information on market prices is proving to be successful. An increasing number of people are using their Digicel phones to get information on prices of various food crops when they need it.

PNG will also be making a formal request for specialised training to be provided to its agricultural research, scientific, extension and information staff on the use of social media and web 2.0 and other emerging ICT tools.

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