Why ICT, not hoe, needs to lead Rwanda’s agricultural transformation?

It seems that ICT would be the next leading catalyst in achieving Rwanda’s agricultural transformation. According to top officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (Minagri), it’s up to young people to take advantage of this move.

Farmers using IT application (eSoko) for market price information checking.

Farmers using IT application (eSoko) for market price information checking (Photo: internet).

And the move appeared to be more serious late last year when the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Dr Agnes Kalibata, put on table huge amount of money totaling US $ 30,000 to encourage youth with innovative ideas to work on creating green revolution in Rwanda. The amount, pledged during the ICT4ag conference that took place from 4 to 8 November 2013 in Kigali, will be spent on sponsoring ICT for agriculture projects through competition, just to entice young people to embrace agriculture quickly; a sector that has been considered for a long time as an area for uneducated people.

Obviously the new development means a lot for Rwanda. Even though the country’s agriculture sector registered a tremendous success over the last few years thanks to some programs such the Crop Intensification Program (CIP), one cow per poor family program (Girinka) and many more, but integration of ICT into these established programs would streamline production.

For instance, one would argue that it has become imperative to spread extension messages in effective and rapid way in this era of pluralistic agricultural extension actors throughout the whole agriculture value chain. And, for sure, ICT-enabled extension systems have really huge potential to act as a key force for transforming the agricultural sector and farmers’ lives by improving access to and sharing of information and knowledge.

And ICT presents huge potential in easing access to finance for farmers in remote areas, detecting soil fertility and fake seeds as well among others.

It is also important to note that Rwanda is in the third phase of a 5-year ICT policy, the National Information and Communication program (NICI 3 inaugurated in mid 2011) that is to focus on ICT in service delivery. So agriculture sector surely doesn’t want to lag behind and want to take advantage of the new technologies to professionalize its activities.

Whatever the progress, but I would argue that it’s critical to choose which type of ICT tool to be used depending on the step of delivering extension messages to farmers.

When talking about integrating ICT in extension, for instance, I believe that agricultural extension is about creating change at farm level. And a message texting alone can’t create change on ground. So my suggestion is that there is a need to identify which tool to use at each step along this move.

Secondly, the Rwandan government is struggling to build a vibrant private sector that can drive the country’s economy. This goes hand in hand with finding jobs for young people who are facing unemployment or underemployment in mass. The Government says they need to create at least 200,000 off-farm jobs every year in order to solve the unemployment issue. So, here, integration of ICT into farming is seen as another way of availing jobs for youth.

Third point, Rwanda’s situation of scarce farmland (with an average farm size of 0.59 ha) might be another factor to engage youth with ICT not only to maximize agricultural production, but also because everyone can’t get a piece of land to till.

Obviously, integrating ICT into farming activities will not only help in professionalizing the sector by maximizing yields, but will also help in solving employment issues among young Rwandans.

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