Forum: GA2 Agriculture Committee
Issue: Is E-Agriculture the way to ensure world food security? Student officer: Mehmet Deniz Yalcin
Information and communication have always mattered in agriculture. Ever since people have grown crops, raised livestock, and caught fish, they have sought information from one another. What is the most effective planting strategy on steep slopes? Where can I buy the improved seed or feed this year? How can I acquire a land title? Who is paying the highest price at the market? How can I participate in the government’s credit program? Producers rarely find it easy to obtain answers to such questions, even if similar ones arise season after season. Farmers in a village may have planted the “same” crop for centuries, but over time, weather patterns and soil conditions change and epidemics of pests and diseases come and go. Updated information allows the farmers to cope with and even benefit from these changes. Providing such knowledge can be challenging, however, because the highly localized nature of agriculture means that information must be tailored specifically to distinct conditions.
ICTs in agriculture/E-Agriculture
Agriculture is facing new and severe challenges in its own right. With rising food prices that have pushed over 40 million people into poverty since 2010, more effective interventions are essential in agriculture (World Bank 2011). The growing global population, expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, has heightened the demand for food and placed pressure on already-fragile resources. Feeding that population will require a 70 percent increase in food production (FAO 2009). Given the challenges, the arrival of information communication technology (ICT) is well timed. But what exactly are ICTs? And can they really be useful and cost-effective for poor farmers with restricted access to capital, electricity, and infrastructure? First, an ICT is any device, tool, or application that permits the exchange or collection of data through interaction or transmission. ICT is an umbrella term that includes anything ranging from radio to satellite imagery to mobile phones or electronic money transfers. Second, these ICTs and others have gained traction even in impoverished regions. The increases in their affordability, accessibility, and adaptability have resulted in their use even within rural homesteads relying on agriculture. New, small devices (such as multifunctional mobile phones and nanotechnology for food safety), infrastructure (such as mobile telecommunications networks and cloud computing facilities), and especially applications (for example, that transfer money or track an item moving through a global supply chain) have proliferated. Many of the questions asked by farmers (including questions on how to increase yields, access markets, and adapt to weather conditions) can now be answered faster, with greater ease, and increased accuracy. Many of the questions can also be answered with a dialogue—where farmers, experts, and government can select best solutions based on a diverse set of expertise and experience.
The types of ICT-enabled services that are useful to improving the capacity and livelihoods of poor smallholders are growing quickly. One of the best examples of these services is the use of mobile phones as a platform for exchanging information through short messaging services (SMS). Reuters Market Light, for example, services over 200,000 smallholder subscribers in 10 different states in India for a cost of $1.50 per month. The farmers receive four to five messages per day on prices, commodities, and advisory services from a database with information on 150 crops and more than 1,000 markets. Preliminary evidence suggests that collectively, the service may have generated US$ 2–3 billion in income for farmers (Mehra 2010), while over 50 percent of them have reduced their spending on agriculture...