|Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Justification|
|ICT and Rural Development Justification|
Africa is the only continent in world that has experience a net decline in per person food production during each of the last decades. In 2006, NEPAD estimated the total numbers of Africans that would go hungry to have increased from 176 to 210 million during 2004/5.
The promotion of a stable agricultural sector in Africa is thus not only a moral imperative but also the basis for social economic transformation for a continent with over 80% of its population surviving on agricultural activities. Earlier strategic interventions aimed at developing direct agricultural innovations and technologies that increase food production and farm productivity. These innovations that include better seeds, farm tools and post harvest technologies unfortunately had little impact on farming in the continent not because they were inappropriate but partly because the innovations lacked equal investment information flow between markets and farmers that resulted into negative feedbacks to many earlier efforts. This led to reduction in farm outputs for most products.
However, the most complicating result was the reduction in the volume money and its circulation in rural areas that rendered subsequent interventions unsustainable. The emergency of ICTs and their potential to support the sector, community telecentres have been adapted as policy initiatives under universal access for most African governments to reduce rural isolation from urban economies. But even when they have worked well to their purpose of creation, this remains at small scale, given the high cost of starting a telecentre and the associated unreliable life cycle supplies necessary to run it (e.g internet connectivity and electricity) within an African setup.
The rapid adaptation and growth of mobile applications in Africa in the last decade provide answers to telecentre gaps and the earlier challenges of connecting urban and rural economies. And if these two interventions are tactfully blended together, they may yield a powerful tool for addressing development calls of oral Africa.
The African continent is faced with widespread, extreme poverty—what economist Jeffrey Sachs (2005) describes as “poverty that kills”. Eliminating this condition remains one of the greatest challenges facing African and international leaders. While over the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic reduction in poverty in certain parts of the world, for the Sub-Saharan Africa it has just been increasing. In 1981, there were 163 million people living in poverty and by 2001 the number had grown to 312 million, majorities of whom living in rural areas. From 1980 to 2000, the per-capita GDP of the region actually shrank by 13%, from $580 to $502. Until now, the volume of money that circulates in the hands of the agrarian majority remains limited and at a very low rate: thus capturing the communities in continuous poverty traps. This has also weakened the sustainability of most of the social economic interventions as the condition yields to a spending cash flow environment for most programs targeting Africa’s agrarian communities.
Launching a successful agricultural sector in Africa is a complex challenge that requires a coordinated, systemic response (Sachs, et al., 2004). In explaining progress toward poverty reduction, Sachs (2005, p. 41) comments, “I believe that the single most important reason why prosperity spread, and why it continues to spread is the transmission of technologies and the ideas underlying them.”
The potential for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to support poverty reduction has been demonstrated in a variety of pilot projects in developing countries (Gerster & Zimmerman, 2005; Slater & Tacchi, 2004). However, for a variety of reasons (e.g technological costs, unreliable power and internet etc), ICT have not yet been a significant force for poverty reduction in rural Africa. But there are reasons to believe that ICTs can do better in the agricultural sector information flow as Kozma (2006) relies farmers' stories he captured from telecentre users in East Africa when investigating: how information contributes directly to their economic and social improvement: “In a rural market in northern Tanzania, a buyer offered a maize farmer TSh 2,800 per 100 kg sack. Because he knew the going market price, the farmer refused the offer and was able to get TSh 3,200 per sack. With the difference he was able to purchase sheet metal for a roof on his house. Another Tanzanian farmer was offered TSh 2,500 per 20 kg basket of her chick peas. Because she knew the market price she was able to negotiate TSh 4,000 per basket. With the difference, she was able to pay her daughters’ high school fees.” These examples and many more stimulate our vision of a world where farmers and their lives are better than what it’s today due to technologies that address gaps in rural market information flow.
Furthermore, most telecentres have computers, books, cell phones, video tapes, the Internet and for a few community radios, providing villagers with access to needed information and the means to communicate it. However, most information is quiet static and intended for more informed communities than the current telecentre users. For example information on markets is still limited although it is the most highly needed and it being a rapidly changing 'product', it makes the telecentres alone or un-intervened mobile phone usage alone unable to keep to the pace of addressing its usefulness to community users.
It is evident in most farming communities that the farmers lack linkage to the marketplaces of farm inputs and outputs. They also have limited coordination among each other so as to correlate production efforts with market information to avoid saturating the market. The coordination on the other hand could mean bulking produce to access a better mass market using similar group quality standardize and transportation. Merging mobile solutions and telecentre interventions will increase community economic transaction through the telecentres that would lead to increased community usage and appropriation, money flow and impact and sustainability of the telecentres. It is on these bases that this project is designed and sought as part of a comprehensive information system for addressing rural development and telecentre challenges in Africa.