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Regional digital conference takes first step to fast-track ICTs in agriculture

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The First East African Digital Farmers' Conference and Exhibition,which kicked off on May 29 and ended on May 31, 2018,opened up exciting opportunities for learning, agenda setting and networking.

The three-day regional conference,held at the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), assembled end-users, service providers, disseminators, regulators, policy formulators, and developers of Information and Communication Technologies(ICT) in the agricultural sector.

First of its kind

The ice-breaking conference and exhibition was a premier forum for agricultural ICT innovators to explain their creations; farmers to provide feedback on what really works for them;and agricultural research and extension service providing institutions and development partners to tailor support to transform agriculture. The theme of the Conference: “Enabling Agribusiness through ICT innovations”, was selected to focus discussions around shaping digital supported agriculture.

Catalogue

The conference was also the first step in a series of measures to catalogue existing digital innovations, match them to farmers' needs and form a sustainable platform to catalyze the role of ICTs and mechanization in agricultural Research for Development.

According to the World Bank, ICTs incorporate any devices, tools or applications that permit the exchange or collection of data through interaction or transmission. E-agriculture focuses on the enhancement of agricultural transformation through improved ICT processes. It involves conceptualization, design, development, evaluation and application of innovative ways to use information and communication technologies in the rural domain, with a primary focus on agriculture. This encompasses use of electronic networks, mobile devices, and services and applications including innovative Internet ("internet of things"), big data, smart irrigation innovations and GIS enabled technologies.

ASARECA participated in the exhibition and conference, showcasing outputs from over 20 years of collaborative research from the National Agricultural Research Systems in Eastern and Central Africa.

Addressing participants, the Director General KALRO, Dr. Eliud Kireger, said the strong commitment from participants, sponsors and organizers reflects the intricate importance of digital agriculture in East Africa.

The objectives of the conference were mainly to:

• Highlight gains in the ICT sector to foster growth in agribusiness and food security in the Eastern Africa Region.

• Identify opportunities for sustaining gains from ICT and expand its geographical and technological scope in agricultural transformation.

• Bring together stakeholders in e-agriculture to promote complementarity and avoid duplication.

• Recommend actions for follow up with various stakeholders and identify the roles of various stakeholders to ensure cohesion in the sector.

• Develop a sustainable approach to guide future similar events.

To optimize conference outputs, discussions were tailored to the following areas:

  • Enhancing crop and livestock production by optimizing access to inputs, plant pest and disease management.
  • Managing post-harvest losses and value addition.
  • Improving nutrition and health outcomes resulting from agricultural interventions.
  • Reducing time spent in decision making through rapid access to information and harmonized platforms and services aimed at improving productivity.
  • Promoting ICTs and services that boost climate smart agriculture.
  • Promoting Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), plant diseases and epidemics forecasting and management.
  • Promoting the use of drones in crop management and precision agriculture.
  • Using mobile apps for dissemination of information on agricultural inputs, crop management solutions and value addition processes.
  • Enhancing nutrition through bio fortification.
  • Promoting market linkages by breaking bottlenecks and mainstreaming e-financing, e-insurance and e-marketing.

Why digitalize agriculture

The world is faced with a challenge of developing concrete solutions to feed a projected nine billion people by the year 2050. This, according to FAO, will require a 70% increase in food production.

The World Bank has also noted that efforts to increase productivity need to be augmented with minimal food losses and efficient supply chain management.

ICT is expected to play a major role in agricultural development in the developing world as many ICT solutions have proven affordable to smallholder and resource poor farmers that make up approximately 80% of the farming communities.

Key driver

E–agriculture was highlighted as a key driver in ensuring systematic use of ICT in agriculture in order to provide access to comprehensive, up to date and detailed information, particularly in rural areas in the Declaration and Plan of Action of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

Although e-agriculture has gained momentum over the years globally, its role in the African continent has only become elaborate in the last two decades. The small holder farming systems are still disadvantaged by inadequate infrastructure, low capacity to innovate, adverse effects of climate change,pests and diseases, poor seed, informal marketing structures and poor market access, weak multi-sector linkages, weak policy, failing extension services, and lack of timely dissemination avenues for agricultural information.

Big potential

There is potential for optimizing ICT applications in agriculture through improving ICT infrastructure, lowering costs and spreading geographical coverage in rural areas, enhancing ICT policy and developing ICTs where they do not exist, among others.

Article by Ben Moses Ilakut-ASARECA Knowledge and Information Hub

 

Date Published: 
Tuesday, 19 June 2018