“Really? But what has the agricultural sector got to do with Web 2.0?” That was the sarcastic question I was asked one day when I was describing the Web 2.0 training that I provide to CTA (the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation). It was an understandable question; on the one hand the Web 2.0 concept seemed to be a current reality reserved only for geeks, and on the other hand, combining new ICTs and the agricultural sector in Africa appeared to many to be a utopian dream, or not far off from one. However, since 2009 CTA, created as part of ACP-EU (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States and the European Union), has provided highly sought after training on the subject of Web 2.0 for Development, aimed mainly at players operating in the agricultural and rural sectors.
Popularised by Tim O’Reilly in 2004, the Web 2.0 concept denotes a set of IT applications (sometimes called “social media”) which enable ordinary users to produce and share multimedia information on the web, very often free of charge. It can be seen in services such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Maps and Dropbox. By 2012, in conjunction with a number of different institutions, CTA had trained 1,684 people from 32 ACP countries in the use of these tools as part of development activities. In particular, these people were agricultural association representatives, ministers, extension agencies, researchers, teachers, students, trainers and, occasionally, farmers. A number of other activities are also carried out to support training, as illustrated by the content on www.web2fordev.net.
Strengthening networks and managing information and institutional communication
Training in Web 2.0 for Development enables agricultural players to more effectively manage their access to information (for example, by understanding RSS feeds and using a site such as www.agrifeeds.org). It easily strengthens external communication (with blogs, etc.), at the same time as reducing costs and making it easier to co-author collaborative documents (with platforms like Google Drive, Framapad.org or Wikis). Agricultural documentation centres can then interact with their users more easily, thanks to Facebook pages, which are distinct from individual Facebook accounts. For example, the Senegalese and Kenyan Ministries of Agriculture, convinced of the relevance of these tools, have included this training in their agents’ educational programme. In the same way, Ning platforms, such as those established by AgriProFocus in various African countries, facilitate online collaboration between various agricultural networks.
Strengthening agricultural marketing, promoting agriculture and its image
The development of blogs has enabled many young people to become involved in agricultural citizen journalism while promoting the sector. Although agriculture accounts for 30% of gross domestic product (GDP) in most African countries, this sector has been forsaken by these same countries, due to a certain negative image, and states do not pay enough attention to it. Certain platforms identified by the agriculture blog competition, the YoBloCo Awards (ardyis.cta.int/yobloco), such as the Nawsheen’s World blog (nawsheenh.blogspot.nl) and Anne Matho’s blog (annematho.wordpress.com), fall within this category. Others such as Technology4Agri (technology4agri.wordpress.com) and Agro-Benin (www.agrobenin.com) promote national agricultural or technological opportunities, including ICT, which could modernise agriculture. Sometimes, agricultural product marketing is also carried out via Facebook or blogs, in line with the increased commercialisation of this platform. A new service offered by accessagriculture.org allows agricultural videos to be shared.
Advocating access to ICT at an affordable price for the agricultural sector
This penetration by Web 2.0 into the agricultural sector forms part of the increasing use of ICT, and mobile telephony in particular, within the agricultural sector. With more than 700 million subscribers, this medium makes it easier to access the Internet every day, to share information about the agricultural market, even in a rural environment, and to encourage the uses of Web 2.0.
However, it is necessary to increase the benefit of Web 2.0 within agricultural institutions and less at an individual level. The development of the Web 2.0 communications culture within organisations remains embryonic. The cost of internet access remains prohibitive for many of them. The interactivity which their platforms can enjoy is also very limited, because of internal considerations, but also because the public overlooks them or does not know about them. It is also appropriate to encourage the implementation of social media communication strategies since absent or uncontrolled communications on the many networks can today be dangerous for an organisation. Of course, poor ICT infrastructure and the absence of electrification in rural environments are serious handicaps. Consequently, it is essential for agricultural players to get involved in demands for access to ICT at an affordable price. To do so, the most effective channel should be the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the flagship in the development of the sector, set up by African states.
Ken Lohento is ICT4D Programme Coordinator at the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) in the Netherlands, where he coordinates projects related to ICT and agricultural value chains, eAgriculture strategies, youth and ICTs, Web2fordev training. Ken is a National of Benin Republic and has been working with national and international organisations for several years on ICT for development activities and policies.
“Seeds 2.0 to Modernise and Boost the Agricultural Sector” is one of the twelve opinion pieces featured in the eLearning Africa 2013 Report. To read more about the annual publication, please visit: http://elearning-africa.com/media_library_publications_ela_report_2013.php.