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ICTs for agriculture: a must for youth and farmers

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Youth

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) can play a critical role in improving incomes for small-scale producers and other players in the agrifood sector, while providing livelihood opportunities for young people able to develop high-tech solutions. As part of its continued efforts to promote youth entrepreneurs and ICTs, CTA staged a number of events at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland - the world's largest annual gathering of the ICT for development community.

In many developing countries, young people are proving increasingly adept at creating ICT applications to strengthen agri-food systems. In partnership with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), CTA showcased some of these promising ICT innovations and hosted discussions on how to do more to foster creative youth involvement in addressing some of agriculture’s most pressing problems.

A Plug & Play event at the WSIS Forum 2016 allowed visitors to discover a range of ICT platforms and give visibility to the young entrepreneurs who developed them. The session was based on the highly successful Plug & Play model launched by CTA in 2013, which has since been used around the world to demonstrate the potential of a wide range of technologies designed to improve practices at various stages along the agricultural value chain.

Participants were encouraged to test-drive the latest mobile and web-based applications, and discover how they could make these tools work for them in agricultural activities. There were opportunities for them to engage with the innovators, who were each given 15 minutes to pitch their application to the audience. Innovations presented at the session included AgroCentral, a cloud-based platform that links agri-businesses to their suppliers; FarmDrive, which improves access to credit for smallholder farmers; MOBIS, which offers banking software for Savings and Credit Cooperatives; Musoni, a core-banking system; and CropGuard and PEAT, two apps to help farmers recognise and treat plant pathogens and nutrient deficiencies. Some of these innovations were developed in the framework of CTA's agricultural hackathon and incubation activities, known as AgriHack Talent.

"CTA's Mini Plug & Play event was an innovative approach to creating awareness of the potential of ICTs for agriculture," said CTA ICT4D Programme Coordinator Benjamin Addom, who organised the hands-on session. "The idea was to show new ICT innovations in the agriculture sector and give opportunities to participants to play with them, get involved with the technologies and receive answers to specific and practical questions."

An additional workshop explored how entrepreneurship based on developing ICTs for agriculture (ICT4Ag) can be supported, as a strategy for promoting youth employment opportunities and innovations in the agri-food sector, and for improving food security. The session, Accelerating ICT for agriculture entrepreneurship to promote youth livelihoods and sustainable development, involved discussions between young ICT4Ag entrepreneurs from various countries, together with international business and government experts. Issues on the agenda included examples of ICT for agriculture entrepreneurship from developing countries, strategies for strengthening business models, capacity building and investment, and roles for supporting institutions, such as government and the private sector.

A growing number of dynamic innovations are using ICTs to offer valuable solutions to agricultural challenges, and many of them are being developed by young people in developing countriesKen Lohento, ICT4D Programme Coordinator at CTA

"However, young entrepreneurs still face several challenges, such as insufficient capacity in e-agriculture entrepreneurship, non-existent or weak linkages with investors and weak support from the national public and private sectors. This dialogue aimed to generate debate on how to overcome these difficulties and unleash the full potential of young entrepreneurs in the agriculture and rural development sector."

The WSIS Forum also saw the launch of two new CTA publications. One of these, Innovate for Agriculture, presents about 30 ICT-based entrepreneurial ventures created by young innovators, mainly from African and Caribbean countries. The innovations feature the use of mobile phones, social media, web platforms and a new generation of tractors, offering services that target various segments and facilities along the agricultural value chain. The second booklet, Failing to Scale, looks at the other side of the coin, examining case studies of nine ICT4Ag initiatives that showed early promise, but which failed to scale beyond the initial funding.

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