Starting on from a positive side, a key characteristic of family farming is the rich source of local knowledge that is produced and transmitted from generation to generation. Recognizing this and adding value to it through technical assistance and policies could be an approach to sustainable agricultural productivity. ICTs are effective in capturing, documenting, disseminating and storing knowledge and skills by family farmers thereby preserving and improving these practices and innovations to support agricultural sustainability. CTA recognizes this strength of family farming and has been investing in initiatives that boost farmer innovations.
Secondly, another feature of family farming is limited access to resources including capital, credit, and markets thereby hindering effective farm activities. ICTs, especially mobile applications are playing key role in facilitating access to these resources by the poor. The "digital financial services" revolution has huge implication on family farmers. The contribution of M-PESA for access to capital by farmers is a well-known story today; the Ensibuko and FarmDrive applications developed by finalists of the hackathon organized by CTA in East Africa in 2013 are other examples of mobile applications supporting access to credit for farmers.
With the increasing penetration of mobile phones in remote parts of the world, efforts should then be made to strengthen the innovative use of mobile technologies by family farmers. Combination of mobile technology and geographic information system provide accurate, specific/micro information of soil, water, nutrient etc. on farmers' field for decision making. CTA is spearheading initiatives and processes to make the digital financial services a reality to the stakeholders along the value chain.
Thirdly, creating the enabling environments for rural ICT connectivity through sound policies and strategies and ensuring thereby affordable and quality access to the technologies, especially in rural areas, will support smooth exchange of agricultural information for family farms. ICT strategies and platforms that increase involvement of farmers' organizations in policy development, policy debates, and influencing policy implementation have to be promoted.
ICTs are supporting networking among geographically distributed farmers and farmer organizations, facilitating engaged socio-economic discussions between the grassroots and policy makers, providing greater inclusion through broader participation, ensuring transparency and social accountability, and fostering local mobilization, advocacy and activism for sustainable agricultural development. Discussions and recommendations of the International ICT4Ag Conference organized by CTA and the government of Rwanda in 2013 are addressing these issues.
Fourthly, innovative use of the new ICTs is subject to the delivery models being used to reach the family farmers. Currently, the different channels are often still promoted as if each one has the ultimate solution. Delivery models that ensure convergence and integration of these various channels should be explored. The role of radio in mass dissemination and wide outreach cannot be ignored but this should be integrated innovatively with mobile and other new ICTs to add value to its services.
Fifthly, family farming is primarily family-labour based with the division of labor between the head of the household, mostly the man, and the rest - women and the youth. Capitalizing on this, the youth could act as the intermediary in the use of the new ICTs to support the family in family farming. As a key member in the family, the capacity of the youth has to be strengthened to support other members of the family but also for them to utilize the innovations in their own farms.
In that perspective, CTA has been providing capacity building opportunities for youths involved in agriculture through means such as web 2.0 training, and also supports their innovations. The special prize on Family Farming that will be awarded this year in the framework of the Youth in Agriculture Blog Competition (YoBloCo Awards) is a targeted activity which offers them the opportunity to share their visions and activities on family farming, and encourages them to enhance it.
Women as the pillar of the family labour have to be resourced with information on production and market for decision making to consolidate the communal role in the family farming. Rural women therefore need their capacity to be strengthened on ICT use. Young women are mostly left behind to support their older mothers in farming. ICTs can be used to support vocational training for some of these young women as farmers in the family. The role of women in extension and advisory services could also be boosted through the use of ICTs such as developing gender-specific programmes and initiatives.
In conclusion, ICT can strongly enhance family farming and the key issues to be addressed in this perspective include extending the use of innovative mobile applications by farmers, improving rural and mobile connectivity, developing rural youth and women's ICT capacity.
Emerging voices in ICT and Agriculture