Increased use of information and communication technologies could soon boost growth in agriculture and lead to poverty reduction in many countries around the world, according to experts attending the ICT4Ag international conference, which was held this week in Kigali, Rwanda.
Rwanda's Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Dr. Agnes Matilda Kalibata, told the conference, which was organised by the Centre for Technical Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) together with her ministry, that ICTs are "low-hanging fruit for poverty reduction." And CTA Director Michael Hailu described the benefits that are beginning to flow from the increased use of ICTs for agriculture as "one of the great opportunities of our times".
Dr Aparajita Goyal, an economist in the World Bank's Agriculture Department, confirmed the Bank's belief in the transformative power of ICTs:
"The World Bank's participation in the ICT4Ag conference reaffirms our commitment to the use of ICT for agriculture in development and we recognise both the challenges and the promise of these new technologies.
"Important efforts are underway now in some of our projects using Public Private Partnerships to build financially stable business models, which will help to achieve greater impact and scale".
The European Union's newly appointed Ambassador to Rwanda, Michael Ryan, who spoke in the opening session of the conference, shared the mood of optimism.
"It's going to be Africa's turn now in the coming years and we want to be there helping that launch, so that the prosperity African citizens deserve comes their way".
He emphasised that the EU had provided significant support to assist the development of agriculture in Africa and would continue to do so. In Rwanda alone, there are three major projects funded by the EU, which are each worth 40 million euros. He said that he "did not exclude" the possibility of a focus on ICT for agriculture in the future. The World Bank's Dr Goyal added a note of caution, however:
"While much encouraging work is taking place across the globe, there is much more that needs to be done in ICT for Agriculture to ensure that the scale of the response is commensurate with the needs of rural populations".
ICT4Ag international conference has been a major success for CTA and participants were delighted with the event's innovative format.
"Conferences this size are nearly always Powerpoint-led," said Giacomo Rambaldi, Senior Programme Coordinator ICT at CTA. "But right from the outset, we decided that this one would be different - that interaction would be at the core of the conference".
"The conference has brought together people who often don't come together in the same forum, and I think it has put ICT firmly back on the international agenda," said CTA Director Michael Hailu. The conference attracted delegates from across the age spectrum, with young people playing a major role, and farmers sharing idea with ICT experts.