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ICT4Ag: improving their use in farmer cooperatives

Farmer cooperatives and organisations need to be strategic and better position themselves within the ecosystem of ICT4Ag

July 13, 2015

New information and communication technologies (ICTs) – mobile phones, satellite data and the like – are transforming agriculture from a labour-intensive industry to a capital-intensive one. Farmer cooperatives need to take this on board and assess how this is affecting their traditional roles.

Written by Ben K. Addom

The ICT in Agriculture Sourcebook by the World Bank, for example, outlines how ICTs can enhance connections of cooperatives to their members; improve accounting and administration; and support a stronger collective voice for cooperatives. For some years now, application of ICTs in these areas has facilitated greater involvement of cooperatives in policy processes and value chain development. However, one way or another, these propositions reinforce the conventional roles of cooperatives as consumers or end-users of products within the agricultural innovation system. 

We suggest that this does not have to be the case and that farmer cooperatives and organisations need to be strategic and better position themselves within the ecosystem of ICT4Ag. Can farmer organisations become value-added service (VAS) providers in ICT4Ag rather than receivers? Who can better understand farmers than farmer organisations and cooperatives? What is the role of ICTs in farmer-to-farmer extension services?

CTA works with the range of actors within the agricultural innovation system to help create a level playing field where all actors engage as equals. For farmer organisations, in particular, CTA’s approach is to:

  • strengthen their capacity to have a voice in the agricultural policy process backed by evidence;
  • improve their access to knowledge by providing relevant resources; and
  • enhance their economic power for value chain development, especially in terms of production and marketing. 

CTA believes that provision of farmer-to-farmer extension services backed by ICTs could be a game changer. Does that mean farmer cooperatives need to be ’techies & geeks’? No. A business model that ensures co-creation and ownership of the service by farmers will make a difference. ICT4Ag-enabled farmer-to-farmer services will increase trust in content being generated and facilitate sharing, adoption, scale and impact. 

CTA is exploring various models by which ICT4Ag-enabled services are delivered through its current initiative on Building Viable Delivery Models for ICT4Ag. One aspect of this initiative is to understand the nature of the VAS provider – including the private sector, the public sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), research institutes and farmer organisations. Analysis of over 300 ICT4Ag applications collated by CTA reveals that fewer than five of the VAS providers represent farmers themselves. While ICTs may be integral in fulfilling the lobbying, networking, administrative, accounting and access functions of farmer organisations, there are opportunities for farmer organisations and cooperatives to change from being service receivers to service providers for their members.

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Glossary of words used in this article

ICT4Ag: information and communication technologies for agriculture.

Satellite data-enabled geo-located services: ICT services based on raw data from geostationary and/or polar-orbiting satellites.

Value-added service (VAS) providers: in the field of ICT4Ag, VAS providers are farmer organisations, NGOs, research institutes and private- and public-sector players involved in the provision of agricultural information through mobile phones, video, audio, animations and web technologies.

Farmer-to-farmer extension services: extension and advisory services provided by farmers to their peer farmers.

About the author

 Ben 100Ben K. Addom

Ben is Programme Coordinator, Information and Communication Technologies, at CTA. He specialises in the application of ICTs including mobile technologies for agriculture, food security, and rural development.