|PNGARNet opens up greater learning and information sharing opportunities through broadband technology|
By SENIORL ANZU of NARI
Information has become an important input in ever-increasing knowledge-intensive agriculture
. The information needs in Agricultural Research for Development (AR4D) is increasingly become complex and changing due to climate change and its impact on agricultural practices; need for rural non-farm employment and income generation; integrated farming; agri-entrepreneurial opportunities; access to modern markets, food safety for consumers and depleting natural resources.
New knowledge based on innovative ideas and systematic research is a crucial catalytic agent for agricultural and rural development.
However, the extent of positive impact of new knowledge depends on how effectively this knowledge is transferred to and adopted by the farming communities and the end- users.
At the heart of the transfer process is the information and communication system and its effectiveness in a given environment.
The use of new tools and systems of information and communication technology (ICT) thus is of paramount importance in the development process.
In today’s information age, new developments in ICT are offering many exciting opportunities and new challenges in rapid and effective dissemination of agricultural technologies and knowledge to stakeholders.
The ICT advances are complemented by new techniques for efficient information and communication management (ICM).
The importance of ICT and ICM has been duly signified through global platforms in the realisation of the effective application of e-agriculture in recent years.
In recognition of these potentials, many national agricultural research systems (NARS) and agricultural research and development (R&D) organisations in the Asia-Pacific region have emphasised the use of ICT in agricultural research and rural development.
The extension mechanism, which is conventional, mandated to provide necessary information support to farming community often fail due to a variety of inherent problems.
Adding to this is the ever-increasing learning needs of stakeholders that are continuously changing due to globalisation.
This is where the applications of ICT in AR4D are offering immense opportunities to strengthen agricultural extension system all over the world.
The potential of ICTs is significant in making AR4D more inclusive through highly targeted and location specific information services; delivery of ICT-enabled services such as market access, access to export markets, traceability systems, mobile extension services etc.
To add to this, the advances like cloud computing, availability of new generation mobile technology in many developing countries and global information systems (GIS), ease of web 2.0 technologies and social networking at all levels have increased opportunities for new ways to share and exchange information and knowledge with wide range of stakeholders.
It also led to improve agricultural advisory services and encourage innovative partnerships in ICM for AR4D for greater impact.
There are notable ICT attempts in agriculture and rural development which not only provide lessons on connectivity and device development but also offer more insights into ICM issues related to digital content development, end-user needs, policy support, digital intellectual property rights, open access issues, standards for greater coherence, information and knowledge management, security of information systems, research in ICT/ICM, socio-economic impact, and institutional and process interventions to manage all these continuous changes.
This specialised body of knowledge, cutting across disciplines, opens up great learning opportunities for all stakeholders in AR4D and it forms a key component to improve their capacities for leveraging ICT/ICM for AR4D.
There are many success stories on how ICT has been effectively utilised in rural development.
Experiences have also shown that ICT initiatives, including on-line agricultural databases, electronic forums and CD-ROMs, have changed the way the information and knowledge are managed and communicated.
New public domain software and applications allow for research information to be digitised.
Audio-visual materials make transfer and access of information much faster.
In Papua New Guinea, the government has created the enabling environment with the introduction of the national ICT policy 2009.
This timely policy sets out a strategic framework for meeting the government’s objective for the ICT sector.
Key amongst this will be the integrated government information system – the platform for e-government and governance.
This sets the basis and opens up opportunity for greater use of ICT/ICM in agricultural and national development.
The recent introduction of competition in mobile telephony and establishment of PNG academic and research network (PNGARNet) company have enhanced increased communication, research, teaching and learning.
The PNG NARS, in a new shift, have reorientated their focus to enhance development impact in their research and development efforts with prominence given to information and communication as an equally-important function at programme level.
Some educational and R&D organisations in PNG have on-line access to knowledge and information exchange using broadband technology and other ICT tools and techniques.
Many more have established electronic communication links with like-minders both in country and abroad, taking advantage of internet and email systems.
With the rapid growth of cellular telephony and wireless internet technologies, the use of ICT can be extended to household and individual levels, making it possible for real time communication.
Innovative actions such as the SMS market information project of the Fresh Produce Development Agency and the mega EU-funded regional agricultural information system (RAIS) for the Western Pacific Countries (PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu) demonstrate the potential application of ICT/ICM in AR4D.
And traditional medium through radio, television and newspapers are continuing to be channels of information and education, with most moving into digitalisation.
The participation by PNG NARS at inter-regional events has opened up new initiatives and changes in the emerging global alliance in RAIS and collaborations. Through such collaborative and capacity building activities, a number of initiatives and resources have been locally developed, such as the PNG NAIS, an online database information system for the country.
However, how to make ICT/ICM work in rural areas of PNG is a real challenge.
This is because of typical constraints such as limited access to remote areas, unreliable infrastructure, high illiteracy rate, inadequate funding support and high telecommunication costs.
Farmers and key stakeholders need timely information and decision-making ability.
It will also require capacity building support to enable them adopt the new ICTs in a user-friendly manner.
While rural telecommunications can play a vital role in supporting and providing farm and non-farm livelihoods, access to markets, education, health services, governance, etc, the cost of connectivity and its sustainability will continue to be an issue.
At the same time, farming is the major economic activity in the rural areas and therefore, agricultural development should be a major consideration in defining telecommunications strategies.
For ICT to really impact on agriculture and rural development in PNG, a number of issues require consideration:
· Policies relating to telecommunication and information management for agricultural and rural development should reflect local realities and needs;
· Need for rural-based information communication policy framework to give access to the rural poor (and the illiterate) on a sustainable basis;
· Resource allocation to support information services should be appropriate and effective to meet rapid technological development and demand;
· Greater partnerships and collaborations be enhanced with RAIS and NARS based on institutional arrangements;
· Relevant strategies for human resource development in ICT/ICM be developed and implemented. Need is also to consider and incorporate gender equity and sensitivity in ICT/ICM;
· There is a need to create public-private-community partnerships in agricultural information delivery and exchange; and
· Agricultural policies need to focus on ICT/ICM use, considering initiatives by various stakeholders, including the private sector and NGOs.