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Mobile technologies for food security, agriculture and rural development: Role of the public sector

Michael Riggs's picture

The regional workshop on “Mobile Technologies for food security, agriculture and rural development”, held in Bangkok from 3 to 4 April 2012, brought together senior officials from the Ministries of Agriculture and allied ministries to share examples of the use of mobile technologies used in their countries, in both public and private sectors, for agricultural information services.

The examples quoted in this publication provide an indicative list of the types of services available, and are by no means a comprehensive analysis of relevant activities in the countries concerned. The aim was to use some cases mentioned during the workshop to achieve a common understanding of the state of the art in these Asian countries, taking account of the tremendous increase in the adoption of mobile phones for delivering agricultural information services.

Their discussion generated the following insights and recommendations:

  • Mobile-based information delivery holds great promise and is either being considered or is in use as a major channel for agricultural advisory services.
  • Clear policies need to be formulated by governments and the public sector that define the principles for their involvement in the development of MAIS, that also take account of national communication policy or information and communications technology (ICT) policy. Of necessity, this will require collaboration between the agricultural and telecommunications sectors of government.
  • Partnership with the private sector has proven to be an essential mechanism for the public sector to develop MAIS sustainably. The roles and responsibilities for the private and public sectors have to be clearly defined in each particular case, preferably through a formal written agreement; the most frequent split of roles is that the content is provided by one and the delivery mechanism is handled by the other.
  • Trustworthiness and reliability of the public sector information and advice delivered through MAIS is of paramount importance to the people whose livelihoods depend on actions influenced by what they receive. In this context, clear policy guidelines should be formulated to ensure the validity and accuracy of the technical information and advice provided. Appropriate processes need to be put in place to ensure the reliability of the information and advice provided by the public sector through MAIS, potentially including quality control by government-approved experts.
  • Accountability for the quality (correctness and accuracy) of technical information and advice delivered through MAIS should be formally recognized by the respective public and private sector actors involved. This accountability should be defined in any partnership agreement between the actors in MAIS.
  • Lessons learned and good practices have to be regularly captured and disseminated across Asia through various mediums, such as brochures, television and radio, so that provinces/countries can benefit from the experience of others.
  • Ideally, agricultural information services should be platform-independent, given that technology-specific services impose requirements on potential audiences and can greatly limit accessibility. All newer models of mobile phones support short message, or SMS-based, services in non-Latin character sets, which is very important in countries in Asia.
  • Given the region’s low literacy rate, voice-based advisory services are more widely preferred by smallholders than SMS-based services, even if they are automated. However, some services, such as weather forecasts, can be effective when delivered through SMS.

The workshop was jointly organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP) and the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC).