Written by Cleofe Torres, College of Development Communication UPLB
Are ICTs a boon or a bane in family farming? This was the question that emerged in the virtual discussions conducted in Asia, Africa, Latin America and at the global level in the last quarter of 2014.
Majority of the discussants brought out the benefits of ICTs to family farming on two aspects: technical and social.
On the technical aspect, discussants argued that ICTs offer better access to video, audio and visuals which are important progress especially in enabling illiterate people to obtain and share their knowledge. Farming households now use mobile phones and radio for weather forecast, market prices, crop production and emergencies.
On the social dimension, ICTs allow farmers to assume broader roles of being not only consumers but also producers and disseminators of information. They access and also exchange knowledge among themselves and between them and the external service providers, e.g. agriculture experts, seed suppliers and buyers. On governance level, ICTs can help improve transparency of public service sector, leading to efficiency in government service to rural communities.
The e-forum also noted the current trend of convergence among the various ICTs. Community radio, telecenters and mobile phones when interlinked provide a platform for family farmers to participate, debate and voice out issues affecting them. This then serves as a venue for deeper discussion even of policy matters that are oftentimes overlooked due to pressing issues of the day.
Alongside the above, is another thread of discussion that challenges the benefits of ICTs in terms of the risk of putting ICTs, and not the farmers, at the center of farming efforts. A participant emphasized that farmers use only ICTs when their traditional sources of information (i.e. family members, neighbours, local experts) fail to solve the problem at hand. It was reinforced by another idea that media and ICTs shall always remain as tools: their quantity and quality are merely aids to creating social change. At the end of the day, it’s about a real and deep understanding of needs-- what will work for the farming community --that matters.
In the midst of this call for a more deliberate balancing act in the use of ICTs, a consensus prevailed that ICTs should be viewed as an investment for democratizing access and use of information and knowledge badly needed to improve farming.