Leaders in agricultural and international development are recognizing the potential for information and communication technology (ICT) to benefit farmers. The International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2013 Global Food Policy Report states, “a growing body of evidence suggests that in many circumstances, information and communication technologies (ICTs), specifically mobile phones, can help address [agricultural] problems.”
This morning at the Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium, four speakers participated in lightning presentations to discuss exactly how ICT can be harnessed for agricultural gain.
Can mobile innovations make a difference?
Ann Mei Chang, Chief Innovation Officer at Mercy Corps, began the lightning presentations by discussing the potential role of mobile phones in agriculture. Two-thirds of the world’s population has a mobile phone, she says. Mobile information services can “help farmers get access to market prices, weather information and better agricultural practices.” But businesses and development organizations must be cautious, and Chang advises investing in existing platforms to increase efficacy. “Implementing a great mobile solution involves a lot of challenges on the ground,” she says, including poor reception, user illiteracy, and high costs. Chang concludes that while mobile technology has a lot of promise in helping address the needs of farmers, “we also need to be really judicious in how we apply it.”
Venture Capital Investing to Spur Innovations in Smallscale Agriculture
Mark Kahn, Founding Partner of Omnivore Partners, gave a presentation on the importance of India as a venture capital hub for agriculture. India, Kahn said, “is the place for a start-up revolution” because it has a high demand for food, a large supply of successful agribusiness, and a diverse ecosystem. Furthermore, most of India’s farmers are smallscale, with the average farm size at 1.4 hectares. Taking these factors into account, Kahn explains that venture capital investment in India has the potential to create solutions for smallscale farmers globally.
Transferring Smallholder Irrigation Technology in Africa: A Million Micros Make a Macro
Nick Moon, Founding Director of Kickstart International, examined how a market-based approach can create products to help smallholder farmers. Moon used the example of a simple water pump that is enabling farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to drastically increase their crop yields and incomes with it. Revealing that 100 million farmers in sub-Saharan Africa live in places where ground water lies just below the surface, Moon conveyed just how effective a tool can be when marketed to the right communities.
Role of ICT Hubs as a Platform for Solving Food Security Problems in Sub-Saharan Africa
Hilda Moraa, Research Fellow and Entrepreneur at iHub, concluded today’s lightning presentations by shedding light on the impact that ICT hubs have made in Africa. These technology centers provide space for entrepreneurs to collaborate about local issues like food security. Several successful programs have already been developed with the help of ICT hubs, including iCow, a calendar that helps farmers track cow gestation, and M-Pesa, an easy-to-use mobile banking service.