Master ICT4D: students’ feedback

In march we took part at the master ICT4D crash course, activated by NGO 2.0. During the master we saw students attending at the lessons, learning and working in groups. We have already talked about the crash course in this previous article. Now we want to talk with students to collect impressions, and experiences.

We couldn’t talk with each students, so we interviewed Tommaso and Giulia. Tommaso has already joined the cooperation world, while Giulia is a new entry, because of her recent graduation.

Why did you choose that master?

The master has a flexible formula, and responds to student-worker’s needs. As Tommaso have said the master is fully compatible with workers, who need to attend at the lesson and work.

One of the most important thing when you choose a master is the clarity of objectives. NGO 2.0 has activated the master creating a clear idea of the class goals and aims. Actually the master is a good match between social good an ICT.

Another key point is represented by the teacher. When Tommaso wanted to seek more information, he asked to a teacher.

“The lecturer of the master was very nice and friendly. He answered to my questions and helped me to contact NGO 2.0 to join the master class.”

Online Lecture

When you work or when you have just finished university, you need to expand your knowledge. Master is what you need.

However time is of the essence and you can’t waste it. The online lecture are a great compromise. Unlike MOC where you attend to recorded lessons, here you can interact, ask questions and work in groups.

As underlined by Tommaso, you can follow everywhere even if you are working abroad. You just need an internet access and a laptop. NGO 2.0 want to promote a smart use of ICT for Social Good, introducing a tech oriented approach.

Anyway NGO 2.0 has dedicated a week for an offline meeting, due to allow the students to meet each other.

Teacher

Although teacher are very important, they are the structure of a class. To understand how much is important we asked to Giulia what did she expect from the teacher of the master.

“Is very important to be prepared. ICTs are a very complex field, so you need to be up-to-date indeed. When you have to interact through a monitor is easy to bore the audience. However our expectations have been satisfied. Our teacher are well prepared, they use innovative methods to engage students. The Platform we use is a key tool that allow us to work in groups even if we are online”

Social good

The master is about the usage of ICTs for social good. The main topic is the implementation of technologies in that field that seems to lack of technological innovation.  Tommaso and Giulia reported they have really appreciate the way NGO 2.0 has blended Social Good with ICTs.

“nowadays social good needs a kick to jump in the future. This Master is on the right way to pick up the digital transformation and carry the international cooperation in the future.”

What about the future

Is very important to  understand where students want to go after the master. So we asked to Tommaso and Giulia about their future career.

Giulia has talked about the certification and apossible diplomatic career.

“A good master needs a certification recognized by the University. The prestige of the university of Turin is a great guarantee. It is also useful for signaling, and UN career indeed.”

“I like my job and I think I will remain in that field. Thanks to this master  I’ve learned to implement ICTs in social good and it is very important for me and my education” said Tommaso before leaving.

ICT4D champions at work, devising innovative solutions for Development

On April 10th, the long-term online training course “ICT Innovations for Development” ended with a Public BarCamp. In this occasion, the 23 selected participants who got the scholarship (among the 480 applications we received from all over the world) had the opportunity to present their ICT4D Final Projects and to win the chance for seed-funding.

 

This 2nd edition of the “ICT Innovations for Development” training course aimed to support the theoretical and practical development of participants in the field of Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D), as well as to support their critical thinking towards existing initiatives, methods and tools; and enhance their ability to develop, adopt and re-appropriate various technologies and social innovation methodologies for local, national or international development.

ICT4D: the final step

ict4d barcamp

It was a long journey – from November 2016 to April 2017 – made up of eight Modules, 28 lectures by world-renowned lecturers, dozens of module assignments. After the training period, the participants were invited to put into practice the knowledge and the skills the got from the training sessions. Therefore, since March 2017, they worked on different real-life case studies proposed by six Italian NGOs (CISV, LVIA, ProgettoMondo Mlal, Amici dei Popoli ONG, AIFO, CeLIM Milano) aiming to develop ICT-oriented solutions in the different countries and contexts they are working with and for. During the final Barcamp, the participants were invited to present and showcase the mock-up, prototypes and innovative strategies they developed in teams, during the last full month.

A Judging Panel, composed by Cristina Toscano (Fondazione Cariplo), Ilaria Caramia (Compagnia di San Paolo), Josh Harvey (CARE) and Gianluca Lazzolino (Postdoctoral Fellow at University of Oxford) was in charge of evaluating all the projects and selecting the most advanced one.

The winner team was made up of Alice Mantoani, Mohamed Amine Chriyaa, Stefano Battain, Adelaide Strada ed Enrico Marescotti. This team worked on “ARePAG” project, aiming to increased resilience capacity of small-scale producers of rice, vegetables and yams in Haute Guinée. Our ICT Champions focused on evaluating and prototype the use of ICTs for improving the supply chain and the logistic systems.

 

Here is the storify of the event:
Schermata 2017-04-13 alle 09.52.10

The overall journey

The whole path of this long training course was organised and coordinated by Ron Salaj, digital activist and member of the team of ONG2.0. The final BarCamp offered the opportunity to retrace with him the main steps, the goals and the overall spirit of this course.

“Well, I think that the course tried to provide the latest trends in ICT tools, practical skills, field-examples, methodologies, frameworks, and knowledge – sometimes even specific expertise through guest speakers – that can help participants expand and strengthen their existing toolbox on a variety of fields: from social innovation and tech4dev to data collection, mapping and emergencies, human rights and democracy, health, education, financial equality and inclusion and, agriculture”, Ron said.

“However, under the circumstances of daily and global crises we are living, the keyword should be courage. As French philosopher, Alain Badiou writes -courage is not being too quickly discouraged- and, precisely in this, the ICT Innovations for Development course aimed also to reconstitute the courage and to orient participants work locally. Seeing the work that has been done in the past 6 months, since the course has started, it gave me courage that another world is possible, or rather another development or cooperation is possible – one that can be focused locally and singularly but, that can be always transmitted globally and universally”, concluded Ron.

The winning team’s plans for the future

We interviewed Alice Mantoani, one of the members of the winning team, about her impression of the training course, the teamwork and on how they were able to coordinate each other, working remotely, from different countries and time zones.

Alice started talking about the overall experience. What convinced her the most – in addition to the validity and internationality of the professors – was the marked practical aspect of the course.

“The -to do- part was put in the first place since the beginning, through the practical demonstrations of teachers, but most thanks to the teamwork, which was based on real projects.”

One of the most appreciated aspects that Alice reported is the heterogeneity of the class.

“Thanks to the online mode, it was possible to put together a professional team, made up of various profiles from different contexts and areas of expertise, while being all part of the same large field of development cooperation.”

Finally, Alice explained how all members have collaborated actively, dividing their time between moments of sharing with the rest of the team – “of course via Skype, being scattered all over the globe – and moments of individual work, during which everyone has to focused on specific tasks.”

“I have to admit that I had a pretty tough team! – Alice added with enthusiasm – We were all good, despite the tight deadline and the great personal work that each of us has faced. Despite the small problems we encountered on our path, I think the project has been developed in a comprehensive manner. Most of the work has already been done, now we just need to simplify it and put it into practice. We already have some ideas on how to use the funds and how to operationalize this project and we plan to start as soon as possible!”

 

The course was organised by Ong 2.0 within the project “Innovation for Development” supported by Fondazione Cariplo and Compagnia San Paolo, in partnership with Opes Impact Fund, Fondazione Acra, We Make, Ouagalab, Fablab To, ISI Foundation, Fondazione Politecnico di MilanoNexa Center, Università di Torino and Politecnico di Torino.

ICT for human rights, democracy and activism

ICT for human rights, democracy and activism – these comprehensive set of topics have been part of Module 6 as part of long-term online course “ICT Innovations for Development”.

 

This module looked at the role of ICT to advance, promote and defend human rights, as well as capture testimonials of human rights violation. Moreover, it provided the opportunity to participants to learn more how ICTs can be adopted for democratic processes and activism. The module has specifically focused on how new technologies are influencing the human rights agenda and how they are being used by the local population and by NGOs to monitor, expose and address human right violations, while also highlighting the challenges and risks associated with ICTs. With the rise of online surveillance techniques and technologies, and ever-increasing online tracking methods, activists across the world have been the target of such surveillance and tracking, therefore the Module has looked also at the (anti)surveillance techniques, platforms and technologies.

Bringing together international experts, such as: Satu Valter, anti-racist activist and head of No Hate Speech Campaign in Finland; Dr Dan McQuillan, professor at Goldsmiths, University of London and one of 93 people who were beaten, disappeared & tortured by Italian police during G8 protest in Genoa (2001); and Ron Salaj, human rights and environmental activist – the module brought together a broad range of themes, case studies and looked at practical tools, platforms and apps.

The first lecture focused more on the basic concepts of Human Rights, looking at the main characteristics of human rights, its values, but also its conflicts and dilemmas, followed by a case study from Finland. It is precisely this case study which was discussed and presented by Satu Valtere, that is, the No Hate Speech Campaign, a European campaign launched by Council of Europe. Focusing on the main elements and features of the campaign, Satu has described the advantages and disadvantages of the campaigns for human rights that are launched by international organisations. Considering that this campaign focuses on combating hate speech online, an interesting discussion took place around the dilemma between freedom of expression and hate speech – and where the line exist?

We moved on with the second lecture, where Ron Salaj has spoken about the concept of activism in the Internet age. Starting from the ’60s, ‘70s and ‘80s protests in China (Tiananmen square), Italy (Movement of ‘77) and feminist movements across Europe – this lecture looked specifically at the campaigning techniques by activists and dissidents movements across the world: from samizdat techniques of publication to culture jamming and free pirate radios. The lecture continues to explore how the forms of activism have shifted by the internet. For example: looking how activists have shut down Lufthansa’s website in Germany (using DDoS attacks) for several hours to protest the immigrant deportation with Lufthansa’s airplanes, a case which the german court has ruled pro activists, justifying the website attack as non-violent digital disobedience; or exploring Google Bombing and agile campaigning techniques employed by anti-racist and anti-Islamophobic group called English Disco Lovers; and then concluding with a detailed analyzation and critical discussion around Arab Spring, Occupy Movement and Gezi Parki – three movements that shake the world between 2010-2013.

The third lecture lead by Dr Dan McQuillan has looked specifically at the concept of ‘open source intelligence’. It started with the technique of ‘sousveillance’, which means “watching from below” (or the opposite of ‘surveillance’) and its etymology derives from replacing ‘sur’ (over) with ‘sous’, which means ‘under’ or ‘below’ or ‘from below’. To illustrate the technique, Dr. Dan McQuillan described how the ‘monitoring from below’ has happened since early ‘90s with Rodney King case in Los Angeles to #BlackLivesMatter, civil rights movements which is coordinated but at the same time decentralized and without the leader, as well as combining localised power structures with an inclusive ethos that consciously incorporates women, LQBTQI* activists, etc. The lecture continued with Bellingcat – a great example that blends together open source intelligence, digital forensics and investigative journalism. Along with Bellingcat, Forensic Architecture has been, a research agency which “provide evidence for international prosecution teams, political organisations, NGOs, and the United Nations in various processes worldwide.  Additionally, the agency undertakes historical and theoretical examinations of the history and present status of forensic practices in articulating notions of public truth”. The lecture has been concluded with practical work on the variety of open source technologies for activism, evidence gathering, investigation, etc.

The fourth lecture again leads by Dr Dan McQuillan, focused on online surveillance and tracking. The lecture has heavily focused on developing the practical skills of participants, by demonstrating and practicing a number of tools and platforms, such as Mozilla’s Lightbeam plugin that helps you identify online trackers in real-time; Panopticlick, a research project by EFF; Tor browser, keeping your browser and internet search anonymous; Veracrypt, a free disk encryption software; PGP, an email encryption system and other encrypted communication channels like Signal or Silent Phone. The lecture has concluded with a theoretical elaboration of Edward Snowden’s revelation and how the big democratic states like USA or UK harness some of the most sophisticated spying technologies at global scale. But on the other side, new movements are emerging to resists, take action and educate people across the world against online surveillance, such as Cryptoparty a decentralized movement with events happening all over the world, aiming to pass on knowledge about protecting yourself in the digital space (this can include encrypted communication, preventing being tracked while browsing the web, and general security advice regarding computers and smartphones).

 

Photo Credits: Trump-WomensMarch_2017-1060165

ICT for Mapping and Emergencies: good practice from Nepal

Few days left and the ICT Innovations for Development online course will continue. The fourth module “ICT for Education” will kick off onThursday the 5th. Meanwhile, let’s see what have we gone through during the third module, “ICT for Mapping and Emergencies” with Nama Budhatoki , finished few days before the holidays. Examples, tools and practices have been the core of the four sessions.

By Federico Rivara

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ICT and Development: 9 principles and 5 methods to start with

The relation between Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and development, and the presentation of methods and principles for the digital development have been the focus of the first module of the online course ICT Innovations for Development. Joshua Harvey, consultant at UNDP for the Human Centered Design, has led the participants during this first part of the course, ended on the 21st of November.

What does development mean? What do we mean with “technology for development”? The first step to introduce this first module has been defining these two concepts from their historical evolution to the widespread acronym ICT4D: “The practical application of knowledge of the intersection of computation, data, and networks for social transformation and the provision of assistance during and after crises“.

The idea of social innovation and digital development is based on the hypothesis that the communities we are working for actually use ICT tools and that these instruments can create new opportunities for change and transformation of the socio-economic context. Innovation, therefore, is simultaneously product and process as noted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR). “When we talk about innovation for development, we do not talk about technical aspects nor of the structural parts of a tool. Instead, we are talking about how technology can intervene in a specific social context and about processes that generate solutions to tackle people’s needs“. In fact, digital development has to be people oriented. A project has to be thought, structured and implemented for and with the beneficiaries of the new product or the service provided.

Unfortunately, theory and practice do not often match” Joshua explains “but (thank God!) we have some principles that can lead us in designing and implementing our interventions“. Our lecturer has shown and explained the main principles of the digital development.

principles

1. Design with the user: who is the project for? Who are the stakeholders? How does the authentic experience of the user inform your design? How can we understand the real needs and necessities 0f the beneficiaries?

2. Understand the existing ecosystem: What is happening in the problem space? What are your constraints – policy, infrastructure, capacity, will? What exists to facilitate solutions? What are the ideas, opinions of the people about the problem? Did someone try to solve it? What are the limits?

3. Design for scale: Is the project structured from the specific context, from the number and kind of users? Is your product or service growth-oriented? How to develop tools today to allow a growth tomorrow?

4. Design for sustainability: Is your product or service dependency-aware? Will it be dependency-aware in the future? Is it financially sustainable?

5. Be data driven: Are you measuring? What are you measuring? How are you using your measurements?

6. Use open standards, open data, open source, open innovation: How “deeply” is your product or service a public good? Is it accessible to everybody? Are the collected data, the measurements, the documents and the methodologies available?

7. Reuse and improve: Have you considered the already existing instruments and technologies in order to innovate and reuse them?

8. Address privacy and security: Are sensitive data protected? Are the privacy and security respected? Besides the law, are others tools used to guarantee privacy and security of individuals?

9. Be collaborative: The project is more efficient when more people and several perspectives are involved; so, how can we engage more people?

These principles are essential to ensure that we are making a good product in a responsible and efficient way“.

Finally, during the last session, the lecturer has presented many methodologies to make concrete the concepts and the principles previously analysed.

The methods are the concrete things we do, how we translate our ideas into practice“.

Here we report some of the methods discussed:

Design research: the central idea of this approach is that experiences, needs and preferences of the user play a central role in the design and the conception of the product or service. “What happens if I build a chair not because I know how a chair is made, but according to how do people take a seat on the chair?“.

Prototyping: this is not about building something but to improve something that already exists according to what we need. It is an extension of the first method, it is a process that starts from user’s necessities: through comprehension and observation of someone’s need, you can reply with an adequate product. That is why it is important to foreseeing a phase to evaluate user’s reaction in order to improve the product.

User testing: this is the phase in which the user’s response is considered. It is a try of the prototype, a further step after the prototyping, to ensure that the product or service is suitable for the user.

Agile Development: once more, the user is the focus. Here it is not anymore about tools or instruments, but about people’s stories. These stories reveal necessities, and these needs are translated into the tool’s requirement we are developing. It is an interactive process which does not start from a concept or a study to directly reach a final target, but it is a process based on a continuous elaboration.

Lean: now, it is time to introduce the product into the real world to fully understand if it is suitable in the context. It is important to understand how to launch the product into the market through a precise strategy, a business model that makes our product competitive and more advisable than others.

All these methodologies are parts of a unique framework that considers the person as the central element of the project. After the observation and the comprehension of the preferences and necessities of the user, and after a deep analysis of them, it is possible to move to the design phase. Once the product is developed, this has to be tested and modified until the achievement of a people oriented and efficient result.

 

Open Data Collection for a better governance

In the last years, a great hype has surrounded open data. This has been possible due to the fact that, recently, great attention has been given to open data movement and the open-source philosophy. The aim of these tendencies is to collect and provide a large amount of data for free. Big datasets can represent an important contribution to a large number of subjects: policy-makers but also the public, private,nonprofit sectors and the development aid sector. This is why we have talked with Georges Labrèche, lecturer of the module “ICT for data collection” organised by Ong 2.0 and starting on the 24th of November.

By Federico Rivara

Sometimes, it seems that there is a discrepancy between the amount of data available (“a lot of data”) and the real use of them. Even more, actors who should exploit the availability of large information generally do not have the tools and the knowledge to get access to them. Why? Georges Labrèche, the founder of Open Data Kosovo, provide us with some insights about how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can make an important contribution to data collection.

aaeaaqaaaaaaaamfaaaajdyxowy5ntm3ltbmy2etngq4ny1iodczlty1mdkxmdg2mzdimw“The starting point is that any researcher, at any level, needs to prove or disprove a hypothesis. A lack of data can undermine this intention. Often, data are available and potential beneficiaries are not aware of it. It is not about having a technical expertise or possess a lot of data. It is about having the proper means to get access to the data – that can be relatively easy – and know where to look and ask in order to work with them“. Looking in the proper space means knowing the people, the community that is involved in the sector you work in. For any sector, there will be a community experienced, fascinated and able to provide support with respect to specific fields of interest.

For instance, those interested in geo-mapping or who need a mapping support have to be aware of the community behind  OpenStreetMap, YouthMappers and also Humanitarian Open Street Map that are some reference points. Similarly, those involved and interested in data journalism can follow these four ways to interact with the data journalism community. Even more, at a political level, OpeningParliament let civic organisations share and discover experiences and good practices led in real contexts. “All of these realities can lead to a better governance and entail more transparency”.

Moreover, “especially in the academic sphere people are highly willing to provide their support and improve technical skills through practical experiences demanded by external actors such as public institutions”. Often, there is a gap, a weak communication, between institutions and motivated communities. This explains why “there is a need for good education and awareness about digital technologies projected to a good governance”. Georges, with a background in software engineering and international relations, can perfectly observe these dynamics.

Open Data Kosovo goes in this direction. On one hand, local action makes possible the engagement of youth with digital technologies to be applied in real projects in collaboration with institutions. On the other hand, consultancy activities also for international subjects such as NGOs can enlarge the  network of the people involved. Both can create great opportunities especially for young people but also set up platforms where everybody can participate such as this one, launched by Amnesty International to scan villages under risk of attack in Darfur.

There are some certainties. Data are available and means to collect them do exist. Tools and procedures to collect them will be the focus of the sessions taught by Georges Labrèche in the two coming weeks within the online interactive course ICT Innovations for Development. Kick-off session on the 24th of November, fourth and final meeting on the 5th of December.

 Below, the TED talk by Tim Berners-Lee: The year open data went worldwide

ICT Innovations for Development: here are the scholarships winners

We have officially concluded the process of Scholarship Awards by delivering 23 Scholarships to bright talents across the world (surprise, surprise – three scholarships more than planned!) that will attend the long-term online course “ICT Innovations for Development”. The scholarships are made possible thanks to the generous support of Fondazione Cariplo and Compagnia di San Paolo within the framework of the project “Innovation for Development”. The selection of 23 candidates who received the Scholarship Award has been a tough job for the Selection Committee, considering the tremendous high amount of applications received – 448 in total. And, today we are immensely happy to announce the winners of the Scholarship Award.
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Financial inclusion: potentialities and drawbacks

In the last years, financial Inclusion –  provide banking services to a larger number of users – belongs to the development agenda as a crucial element supposed to improve the financial requirements of those people who don’t have access to traditional financial services and eradicate poverty. That’s why we have seen a boom of new realities based on digital services that aim to go where traditional channels can’t.
However, as Gianluca Iazzolino – postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oxford on media and democracy and consultant for the Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P) program at UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) – tell us, “mobile money services can actually be dangerous in the moment in which they create new exclusions instead of inclusions”Given the importance of the financial inclusion and its important digital part, Ong 2.0 offers a module on this theme, taught by Iazzolino, within the course ICT Innovations for Development.

by Federico Rivara

profile-picIazzolino warns us about the risks of the sector. “Today” Iazzolino tell us “the actors that provide digital financial services don’t limit their action only to mobile money (the digital transfer of money by means of mobile phones) but they tend to offer more services such as insurances and loans“. The reason is simple: these services entail larger profits to the operators that provide them.

The risks of the system are several and lead us to a current hot topic: the circulation  and availability of a huge number of data. The financial services mentioned before make the tracking of the user’s data possible. Consequently, the fintech companies can have a precise knowledge of the client’s credit score (the creditworthiness of a person). “The new excluded are therefore those who don’t have constant revenues coming from informal channels, as often occur in African countries realities“. Those who are invisible and don’t produce data might be excluded from a policy, for instance, because they are not considered.
Similarly, Iazzolino explains, independent operators of this business is realistic only for people who already run other activities. For example, in the over the counter (markets not regulated according to the official rules of a specific area) remittance business, the intermediary agent between the user and a company is often a person who already manage other enterprises and who can afford longer-term investments. 

m-pesaThe pursuit of profit, as already mentioned, is a basic element for the development of new platforms. But, the incomes barely go to the areas in which these platforms work. Look, for instance, at M-Pesa. This is a service that allows payments and money transfer through mobile phones. Today M-Pesa is a solid reality that works in many European and African countries. Safaricom, a communications company, launched the platform some years ago. Vodafone is the majority shareholder of Safaricom, based in London, where the larger revenues go.

 

The potentialities of the digital financial services can reach a lot of levels. For instance, government-to-person payments  are becoming more popular. Through this system governments can pay, for instance, salaries and retirements benefits of their citizens, decreasing the transaction costs. The authority and role of the state have to be clear. Otherwise, some services could be in the hands of powerful actors that stand between the citizens and the state in an intermediary layer. For instance, MasterCard has realised the opportunity coming from the identity cards in Nigeria, the most densely populated country of the African continent.  Similarly to other countries, a lot of people don’t have documents due to weak register offices. Therefore, MasterCard agreed with the Nigerian government to release 120 million of National Identity Smart Cards that allow people to have a document but also to make payments. On one hand, these companies help governments to overcome such a big issue but, on the other hand, “these systems can give incredible power to external actors that can keep in check a state“.

These projects look at the so-called bottom of the pyramid, the poorest and largest global group. People belonging to this group do have bargaining power, knowledge and entrepreneurial capacities. What is still missing is the market. Iazzolino moves our attention to another curious point. “Interestingly, the financial inclusion is part of the development agenda since the Maya Declaration, occurred in 2011, a year in which it was very clear how the markets of the north were saturated while the south ones are still explorable“.

“To know the technological tools that make the financial inclusion possible is necessary in order to understand how we  can set a flexible system that looks at everybody’s needs”. We have to face the discussion now since the fintech industry is increasing every day and the paradigm has to be fixed. To know specific cases, design money transfer strategies helpful for the development strategy and understand how financial inclusion can really reach everybody are some of the aspects that Gianluca Iazzolino will present in the module “ICT for financial inclusion“.

 

Photo credit: whiteafrican Mobile Phone with Money in Kenya via photopin (license)

ICT Innovations for Development: a new long-term online course

ICT Innovations for Development is a certified long-term online course, with renowned international lecturers, seed-funding opportunities and 20 scholarships – are you ready to put your educational growth at another level?

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The phone besides the hoe. How ICTs are changing the agriculture

Today, 5 billion people use mobile phones and the total number of subscription is 7.4 billion. Moreover, almost 3.5 billion people are connected to the internet and this number is not expected to stop soon.
Agriculture represents one of the most affected sectors. For instance, farmers use mobile devices to know prices, products and also information to manage properly their resources. This is essential to reduce the transaction costs.

by Federico Rivara

Regarding this topic, we have interviewed Simone Sala, a consultant at the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO) and lecturer of the module ICTs for Agriculture and Environment within the course ICT Innovations for Development organised by Ong 2.0.

simone_sala_bangladeshSimone works for a division of the FAO which aims at developing and suggesting communication techniques supposed to ease the dialogue amongst various actors in rural contexts. “This is necessary in order to, for example, facilitate the collaboration between smallholders and government agencies”, he explains. Very recently, coincidently with the G20 held in Hangzhou, China, FAO, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have teamed up to create a platform over ICTs regarding the sustainable agriculture development.

The dialogue amongst different actors and the information flows”, as Sala says, “makes often the difference to the results of a project”. He tells us how a project over the water resources in Lebanon became more efficient once his team better understood  how to use the communication technologies. During the first stage of the project, the team was too focused on the technology transfer, without a deep analysis of the local context. Talking more about the available means with the actors involved improved the project that today can go on.

“If the information is well spread and accessible”, Sala says “a large number of users can be reached”. An example comes from Ethiopia and its Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency. The 8028 Hotline service, based on a simple technology such as the telephone, allows thousands of farmers to get advice and information about agriculture practices by means of SMS or interactive voice response. Launched in July 2014, the agency registered 7.3 million phone calls made by 1.2 million registered people.

According to Sala, in the light of his experiences, “some dynamics – within the agricultural context – occur in African countries as well as in Italy. A common problem is indeed represented by the access to technologies which might lead market diversification. Moreover, today farms are, on average, small. This implies that farmers are unable to afford technological investments. A state intervention could reduce these barriers”.

However, other actors can allow more access to technological innovations.

Farm Radio International represents an example. “The radio is one of the main information channels for the smallholders in rural areas”. This organisation, based in Canada, has developed a network that consists of 500 radio partners. Today, it works in 38 African countries and aims to give voice to smallholders so that the radio can spread information which comes directly from them and reach other farmers with similar problems and needs.

Moreover, Digital Green.  This non-profit organisation has thought to make videos in which the protagonists are the farmers themselves. The “actors” show their agricultural practices to the viewers who are farmers as well. In the video below it is possible to see how the communication  by means of video can be more simple because the video makers and viewers belong to the same community.

Finally, Ignitia. This social enterprise, based in Sweden, has been the first actor willing to make weather models specific for the tropical areas. Thanks to them, it is possible to know precise weather forecasts for very specific regions. The unpredictability of the weather is one of the main problems for farmers, especially in countries where they cannot count on weather stations. Today Ignitia is present in Western Africa, 80,000 farmers have been involved (2015) and they declare a forecast precision close to 84%.

“A large number of tools is available and every day more of them are launched”, Sala claims “people who work in the development sector need to know them. More importantly, aid workers have to understand which instruments is the best in a specific context”.

This is why Simone will be teaching his module within the course ICT Innovations for Development. The module consists four meetings (first lesson on the 11th of November) in which he will discuss ICTs for agriculture, information channel and data sets, main actors in these sectors, applications, case studies, exercises and so on.

Photo credit: MedSpring and Flickr