ICT4AG closes with clear plans for the future

The Minister of Agriculture & Animal Resources (MINAGRI), Dr. Agnes Kalibata, during the closing of the ICT4AG Conference, committed herself to put the Yala Prize, worth $30,000, to a yearly ICT for Agriculture competition in a bid to encourage youth to come up with ICT-enabled solutions for agriculture.

Min A. Kalibata handing the overall award to the best Hackathon  winner (Photo: Eric Didier Karinganire)

Min A. Kalibata handing the overall award to the best Hackathon winner (Photo: Eric Didier Karinganire)

Minister Kalibata made the commitment after realizing the impact of innovative ideas that resulted from the 4-day Hackathon competition that took place in parallel with the ICT4ag conference in Kigali.

“Let’s put the money together to encourage youth with innovative ideas and get to work to create a green revolution,” said Minister Kalibata, while pledging the financial support as a way to build an enabling environment.

The willingness to encourage innovative ideas, according to Kalibata, makes part of the Rwandan government to involve and build a vibrant private sector that can drive the country’s economy.

“We, as the Government of Rwanda, are committed to make something happen for the private sector,” she said.

During the gala dinner, the best Hackathon winners were announced and awarded with cash prizes. Uganda’s Ensibuuko team from Outbox went away with the overall prize with 5,000 EUR and a six-month incubation to refine their project.

The wining team developed an application to improve access to finance for people in remote areas. The application makes it possible for them to acquire small loans and pay back loans with ease by text messaging services.

Other awardees included the first run-up group from Ethiopia who received 4000 EUR, the second run-up from Tanzania with 3000 EUR.

A Rwandan team, Fertilizer Logic, also participated in the competition, although did not receive any awards. Their application detects soil fertility in order to help farmers determine the nutrients composition in the soil, as well as the proper amount of fertilizer to apply to their crops.

According to Kalibata, these kinds of innovations need to be supported in order to fast track agricultural professionalization. In respect to this, she also announced that the ICT4AG meeting will become an annual event.

Michael Hailu, the Director of CTA, said that the weeklong event has been a success.

“It was really exciting to see the energy of these young innovators. This gives us a unique opportunity to continue supporting the use of ICT and for the the youth to provide solutions for agriculture. At part of CTA, we will be continuing this activity and intensifying this effort,” said Michael Hailu on the event’s outcomes.

“This is the beginning to put ICT for agriculture on the map,” he pointed out, thanking Rwanda’s Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources for having hosted the memorable event.

“Seeing people at the Hackathon today reminded me of these home-grown solutions that Rwanda has; going back on the ground and asking yourself, what are the real challenges? It’s about digging deep into people’s cultures to help create solutions that will reach them even faster,” Minister Kalibata remarked.

In addition to the ICT innovative projects, CTA also recognized the best journalists who produced pieces on how ICT is facilitating agriculture transformation. Joshua Masinde from Kenya’s Daily Nation was for best piece.

The ICT4AG conference was attended by more than 400 participants from 60 countries of the African continent, Asia, Pacific and the Caribbean.

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Experts urged to harness ICT potential in agriculture

Following a great kick-off by Plug and Play Day at the ICT4AG Conference, November 5th marked the official opening of ICT for Agriculture, with speakers urging participants and stakeholders to take advantage of the potential that ICT can bring to agriculture on the African continent. More than 400 participants from over 60 different countries joined in on the ICT4AG 2013 conference in Kigali, the Digital Springboard for Inclusive Agriculture.

L-R: ICT&youth Minister Nsengimana, Agriculture Minister dr A. Kalibata, CTA Boss M. Hailu and M. Ryan during the ICT4ag official opening

L-R: ICT&youth Minister Nsengimana, Agriculture Minister dr A. Kalibata, CTA Boss M. Hailu and M. Ryan during the ICT4ag official opening (Photo: Eric Didier Karinganire)

Michael Hailu, Director of Technical Centre for Agricultural & Rural Cooperation (CTA), emphasized the necessity to transform the agriculture sector using ICT tools and innovation. The African continent is still facing serious food insecurity issues, and employs the majority of populations around Africa, making farmers heavily reliant on agriculture. Issues such as access to finance, low productivity, and access to agricultural inputs still plague Africa’s smallholder farmers.

“African countries spend close to $50 billion a year on food imports, yet we have a lot of uncultivated land. That’s unacceptable,” noted Director Hailu, highlighting that smallholder agriculture must be transformed from a subsistence activity to a profitable and sustainable business.

The ICT4AG Conference has begun the mark of huge recognition of ICT in agriculture, in light of the growing ICT potential in not just Rwanda, but on the entire continent. There are 6 billion mobile phonesin use throughout the world, with 70% of these phones in rural hands. More people own mobile phones than toothbrushes.

ICT obviously seems to be an important and growing driver of development. However, 90% of students in Africa still have never touched a computer.

“There are a lot of tools and elements in place; the rest is about how we harness  and integrate it within the agricultural environment,” said Rwandan Minister of Agriculture & Animal Resources, Dr. Agnes Kaliabata, emphasizing that although ICT potential is clearly present on the continent, developing countries have yet to harness its full capability. “ICT is creating a revolution and it has already started.”

With Rwanda’s recently announced plan to partner with Korea Telecom and provide 4G broadband to the entire country within 3 years, and mobile ownership already at 65% in Rwanda, the country is already on its way to an ICT revolution, and the Government of Rwanda plan to take this straight into agriculture. Rwandans will even have an email address attached to their National Identity, portraying the “forward thinking” that Rwanda hopes to use in fast-tracking development.

ICT can play a vital role in transforming agriculture, providing timely advice and information to farmers, assisting smallholders to increase productivity and access markets. ICT can ultimately change the entire agricultural value chain.

Minister Agnes Kalibata has also highlighted the opportunity to use ICT to reach women and increase the progress that has been made in areas such as leadership, economic empowerment, and nutrition. This will also be an opportunity to reach the youth of Africa.

“This is an opportunity for the youth to hack brains for new solutions. It is a way to help create employment away from the typical jobs we know for the current and future youth,” stated Minister Kalibata. “ I may not be able to hack brains or ICT today, but I can train others to do it for the future.”

Minister Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Minister of Youth & ICT, believe this conference comes at the right time, right place, and with the right people, in encouraging strategic government investments in ICT towards agriculture and in the youth of the country.

“The youth should not be seen as a cost center or call for social protection, but as future center for profitability. This is about attracting the interests of young people in a sector that really needs their innovative and creative potential to catalyze the agriculture sector’s transformation process,” said Minister Nsengimana. “ICT and Youth were merged in Rwanda because ICT in the hands of the young is seen as a tool for the future.”

Rwanda Development Board (RDB) CEO Ambassador Valentine Rugwabiza agrees in the power of ICT to create jobs.

“We would like to create 200,000 off-farm jobs every year and that will not happen without ICT,” stated RDB CEO Rugwabiza.

Over the last few years, ICT has had an unprecedented impact on several developing countries, and the ICT4AG conference will spend the next few days learning how ICT can transform the lives of smallholder farmers, turning ordinary farmers to “smart farmers.”

“I call upon everyone to use this opportunity to turn this conference into a memorable milestone in the ICT for Ag revolution,” concluded Minister Nsengimana, at the conference official opening.