Setting the scene

Goodluck is a 35 year old progressive farmer. He starts his day early checking his smartphone for the latest news on the weather, the crops he grows and on any policy developments that may concern his business and the cooperative he is a member of.

As he is about to start work, he remembers that he wanted to see if he could find any information on a new pest he heard about yesterday on the radio. He will link up with his input provider, Kahilu, later today to discuss possible solutions and sends him a quick SMS to confirm the meeting. A firm believer in getting a second opinion, he reminds himself that he should also get in touch with the Farmers’ helpline.

After running a quick digital scan of his cows and sending the data to the national disease surveillance system, he checks the commodity prices at the nearby market before logging onto Facebook to see if there is anything new from the farmers’ federation which represents his interests in the region.

At the farmers’ federation, the officer in charge of communication and social media, Emily, has just posted a note on Facebook promoting the video she uploaded to YouTube yesterday afternoon. She is now busy checking the number of hits and the origin of the visitors to the video. There has already been quite a positive reaction which she notes smiling. Her priority is that the farmers’ federation’s message reaches policy makers in time to influence them. She knows that communicating efficiently is vital to do this. She is a member of, various e-discussion lists and knowledge management portals where she has posted the federation’s carefully crafted messages. To ensure maximum visibility for the video, she has diligently bookmarked it on Delicious and StumbleUpon, sent out several tweets (many of which have been retweeted) and made sure it would link to additional informative materials she found on the full text open  agriile portal.

This is a picture of modern Africa. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), Social Media, Web 2.0 and mobile applications are changing the way we work, interact, think and organise our lives regardless of where we live and what business we are in. Africa’s telecommunication sector is growing at a faster rate than any other in the world. Mobile devices are transforming the communication landscape. The digital revolution is radically shifting how we create, manage, share and publish information, as well as how we relate, collaborate, communicate and share resources. These changes can be attributed to increased access to data networks and the internet, constant innovation, ease of use and decreasing costs making access available for the masses.

Social media are web- and mobile-based technologies that support interactive dialogue and rich multi-media communication. They have led to substantial and pervasive changes in communication between organisations, communities, and individuals. Individuals have become knowledge producers as well as consumers. Knowledge is sourced from crowds and not just the experts. Static data has been reborn with the advent of instant visualisations and infographics, portraying the issues more attractively and grabbing the viewer’s attention. Groups of agriculturalists are coming together, sharing common problems, interests and aspirations. They are collaborating online to generate thematic maps and online applications that can be used in monitoring events, the spread of agricultural pests or even to track commodity prices.

Opting out of this new digital world is not an option. iCow [], M-Farm [], Esoko [] and many other successful initiatives demonstrate that rural entrepreneurs cannot afford to miss out on the opportunities that the digital revolution offers. Equally, any government serious about food security and meeting the Millennium Development Goals must be able to stay up-to-date with the latest thinking and policies … if only to keep up with their farmers! Moreover, if we are to ensure sufficient food for the predicted 8.3 billion population of 2030, it is not just agricultural production that needs revolutionary new technology but entire agricultural value chains. 

The 2013 international conference looks at how ICTs are truly empowering producers and consumers along entire value chains, providing a springboard to opportunities giving a voice to the voiceless and leaving no smallholder behind. It will showcase the exciting possibilities and incredible developments taking place in this area.