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[ADDIS ABABA] Radio and mobile phone systems are vital and sustainable solutions that can help improve agricultural production in Africaif managed well on a large scale.

The revelations were made by experts at the 2013 euroafrica-ict conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last week (3 December).The experts noted that integrating the right applications ofinformation and communication technology (ICT)in agricultural activities can help increase sustainable food production.

The experts were impressed with a system designed by Ethiopia-based technology firm —Apposit — for use in the agricultural value chain. The system provides different services to farmers such as information on market prices, agricultural tips and practices as well as general communication through short messageservices and interactive voice response through mobile phones.

Apposit’s system also improves efficiency in working practices — such as providing near real-time data collection tools for logistics and warehouse management decisions made with more time-relevant information.

“There is a long way to go before we see real benefits from the use of ICT applications in agriculture in Ethiopia and Africa due to these challenges.”

Gideon Abate, Apposit

Gideon Abate, a senior project manager atApposit, says among the greatest challenges in ICT applications in agricultureare inadequate mobile connectivity and mobile literacy. He argues that these challenges continue to determine how well solutions can be rolled out to the field.

“There is a long way to go before we see real benefits from the use of ICT applications in agriculture in Ethiopia and Africa due to these challenges,” Abate tells SciDev.Net. “We are taking on the challenges to ensure that with each new client we also deliver a host of other services to benefit the endusers.”

Abate says that two key areas that will enable better growth of ICT is the expansion and reliability of the ICT infrastructure and providing relevant content to endusers.

“Once we have developed a significant content base that is required and has a benefit to the farmers, I am sure that they will utilise the services more,” Abate adds.

FanosMekonnen, a knowledge management and communication expert from the International Livestock Research Institute Ethiopia, says that ICT systems enable farmers, agricultural extension officers and other agricultural practitioners to share vital knowledge on agriculture, which can help improve yields in farms.

She further explains that Internet access will be very crucial to boost knowledge sharing, especially in the rural areas, where most farmers carry out their activities.  But she also stressed the importance of radio and television as avenues for disseminating knowledge among farmers.

“We need to continue creating awareness and capacity building through participatory radio and television programmes to enhance [food] sustainability,” Mekonnen appeals.

The experts from national and international companies, research institutes and academic institutions from Africa and Europe as well as policymakers recognised the opportunities and challenges of ICTs to boost farming.

The question that remains is whether more practical solutions such as the one by Apposit could be implemented in many African countries to help millions of smallholder farmers increase food production and achieve food security.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.