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.
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.