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Urbanites are the bridge for Smallholders’ Digital Divide

The current model favoured by donors and agricultural economists for rural and agricultural development tends to have a narrow focus on smallholder farmers in remote rural areas. On one level, this focus is logical. Smallholders, especially in Africa, Asia and South America, are more likely to be food insecure and poor. So, seemingly the fastest way to reduce poverty is through the agriculture sector because that’s where the poorest people are working. Unfortunately though, this has led to a reductionist focus on smallholders, which tends to leave out farm workers, and a narrow notions of how to support food security and poverty alleviation (Collier and Dercon 2014).

This broader issue plays out in relation to smallholder farmers use of computers, phones and other information communication technologies (ICT) to grow their business. In an article for Food Tank, Nizeyimana suggested that access to the technologies is a large barrier- if people cannot afford the technology or cannot go to a shop or a friend and purchase it, then ICT is simply not going to help their business directly. So, access certainly is a problem, and different programmes have been set up to improve access. But, another barrier to engaging with ICTs for agriculture is a lack of knowledge about how to use the technology most effectively.  Ayalew, Mamo and Kebedom said:

Adoption rate of agricultural technological package by the farmer mainly depends on the information and knowledge available for farmer about the technology. This is because farmers need being informed about the importance, method of application, application rate of the developed and disseminated technology (2013, 890)

Urban, educated people are well-placed to address the “digital divide” by improving access to ICT and by sharing their knowledge about ICT- both how to use a particular technology and which sites and platforms will be most helpful. They have the networks and close connections with particular people in rural communities, and they can explain how to use a technology in ways that are not overly complex. Peer or social learning like this can be a far more effective approach than conventional learning and teaching. This bridge to the digital divide experienced by smallholders is generally not featured in donor agency reports or strategies, but facilitating technology transfer through more informal means should not be overlooked as a key strategy for rural and agricultural development.

Hope Johnson

... Mkulima Young Team

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