Monday, November 28, 2011

Towards improved information and knowledge management in agriculture

Group photo of the workshop participants at the Tanoa International Hotel, Nadi
LAST week experts from the Pacific region on information and communication, agricultural extension, and information management gathered in Nadi, Fiji, for a workshop on information and knowledge management (IKM) for agricultural development.
The workshop ‘moving beyond strategy to improve information and knowledge management for agricultural development in the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs)’ was to consider new dimensions in IKM and how they could benefit the pacific region.
It was aimed at assisting the PICTs in making efficient and effective use of information resources, as today’s agricultural innovations are becoming increasingly market-linked and as such will require new approaches and tools.
The forum also explored new technologies and opportunities to disseminate timely, accurate and up-to-date information on agricultural production, pest management and marketing to farmers and communities, supplementing existing agricultural extension strategies and networks. 
The workshop was part of an effort by regional and international organizations including Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, Global Fund Agricultural Research (GFAR), Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) to assist PICTs on effective IKM to meet current and emerging challenges in agricultural development.
These organisations are focusing on the need to implement effective IKM and information and communication (ICM) strategies to address the challenges facing the agriculture sector. 
It is part of their efforts to assist PICTs to develop strategies relevant for the development stage of member countries, depending on their respective needs and constraints. 
It enabled participants to put together ideas and share their experiences on IKM of their respective organisations and countries to devise the way forward collective for agricultural development.
Such forums are essential for us to discuss and offer recommendations on how we can improve our IKM efforts to meet current and emerging challenges to agricultural development through partnerships locally, regionally and with the global community.
It was very timely, given the many challenges that the agriculture sector faces, especially those concerning food security and livelihoods, and impact of climate change induced stresses.
The workshop was a step towards promoting greater involvement and participation of organisations and institutions in the global movement with the coherence in information for agriculture research for development (CIARD) and to promote openness in information and communication management (ICM) models.
New knowledge based on innovative ideas and research is crucial for agricultural and rural development.
But, we should also note that for these innovations to have any impact at the community level, they need to be communicated effectively. 
Many efforts are being made on this front and the use of new tools and systems of information and communication technology (ICT) are becoming essential in the development process.
While ICT is a useful tool, it is also a challenge in the pPcific region. 
The small farm sizes, scattered nature and remoteness of farms, infrastructure, adapting to climate, and loss of biodiversity add further challenges.
International partners such as FAO, GFAR, APAARI and CTA are also aware that inappropriate policies and weak institutional capacity in the public and private sector is limiting the use of ICT tools for effective dissemination of agricultural innovations to the farming community.
Investment of in information and communication is also overlooked in the pacific countries, while ICT tools can facilitate delivery of information to rural communities. With lack of investment and other constraints, information providers in the region are having difficulty in understanding the needs of users and their relevance, type of information required by different user groups, the format required and appropriate ICT tool to use for maximum impact and desired outcome.
It is for these reasons that the workshop has tried to identify appropriate solutions to these constraints. 
We have to be a little more innovative and take steps to mix traditional approaches with modern tools, doing what we can within our means. 
International partners are willing to work with us in promoting and sharing experiences of other countries in the Asia-Pacific region on good practices on agriculture supported by ICT tools.
Mobile telephone has been a huge success in PNG since 2005 when new mobile phone company, Digicel was officially launched to compete with state-owned bemobile.
This success is also benefiting the farming communities through the mobile market information for fresh produce growers from Fresh Produce Development Agency in partnership with Digicel, a pilot project supported by AusAID.
This and many other innovative initiatives using mobile phone technologies and other emerging tools should be explored. 
The workshop was in a way trying to facilitate stronger partnership and share our experience with organisations within the region and globally in the area of information and communication for development.
We hope that such forums will be a means for improved awareness on new dimensions in IKM for agricultural research for development and strengthened information sharing and networking. 
The partnerships established regionally and international will go a long way in improving IKM in the region and contribute effectively towards agricultural development.

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