Improved availability and access to new ICTs-especially personal computers, the internet and mobile telephones—in the last two decades have provided a much wider choice in collection, storage, processing, transmission and presentation of information in multiple formats. Some of these applications such as tele-centres, web-portals, knowledge platforms call centres, mobile phones, community radio, video, digital photography, GIS, e-mail, audio and video conferencing have the potential of getting across vast amounts of information to rural population in a more timely, comprehensive, cost-effective and interactive manner.

ICTs can also enhance knowledge processes and support knowledge workers (information intermediaries/extension and advisory service providers) to have ready access to organised information. It can also help promote better communication and interaction with fellow practitioners and also enhance interaction needed for collective knowledge creation. The Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) would like to engage more actively in this area of using ICTs for strengthening extension and rural advisory provision (ICTs for RAS) and has constituted an “interest group” to further elaborate how GFRAS would move forward. This draft note is in response to this demand.

GFRAS Interest Group ICT4RAS

The interest group wants to be active in the following fields:

Documenting & Sharing Best Practices 

Experiences and evidence on use of ICTs for RAS are scattered across different organisations globally (FAO-TECA-VERCON, World Bank-ICT Source Book, USAIDMEAS; CTA, ITU, CRS, Farm Radio International, FARA, etc.). As a global platform, GFRAS (in partnership with its regional networks) should facilitate collection of evidence of use of ICTs in improving the effectiveness of extension (facilitating knowledge application through delivering better and timely knowledge and other support and services) and document best practices in this area.

Research and Evaluation

“Extension agents and their organisations are faced with a myriad of ICT choices of tools, from simple to sophisticated. Many in the RAS field are requesting research and evaluation of these tools before funds are spent, perhaps un-wisely as the results of many pilot programmes vary and seem less than sustainable” (Vignare, 2013). There are several challenges in using ICTs in agriculture in general (USAID/MSU, 2013) and RAS in particular. GFRAS could undertake analysis of constraints in using ICTs for RAS and highlight what needs to be done to address these. It could also undertake specific research and evaluation of experiences to draw wider policy relevant lessons to advise those interested in investing in ICT for RAS. This activity could be organised as part of its broader research and evaluation agenda. Evidence could be collected from the regional networks and through metaanalysis from existing research and evaluation reports.

Capacity Development

Though lots of anecdotal evidence on use of ICTs by farmers is available, there is less evidence of how intermediaries (extension and advisory staff in the pluralistic extension environment) can better use ICTs for accessing, sharing, applying knowledge and also generating knowledge products. Making available relevant content in usable forms is a major challenge. Moreover much more needs to be done to enhance the capacity of farmers and intermediaries to use ICTs and also use information made available through ICTs. Though ICTs could potentially help in developing the capacity of extension staff through distance and open learning (DOL), experiences are limited. This could be an important area for GFRAS to look at especially for enhancing capacities (acquiring new knowledge and skills) among RAS as articulated in its Global Position Paper-The New Extensionist.

Promote Networking

Lastly, GFRAS and its regional networks could use social media to enhance networking and knowledge exchange within the network. It could develop communities of practices on different aspects related to RAS and develop briefing notes and guidelines, tool-kits on how regional networks and country chapters could use social media in promoting networking.