A major focus of the ICT4Ag conference is to stimulate thinking about how ICT can be used to support agriculture. However, many agricultural areas lack access to connectivity, in particular broadband Internet, which enables ICT use.
In a series of two panels, Integra/Orange, together with a broad range of experts, will focus on how to bring connectivity to rural areas and ensure its benefits for agricultural development. The first panel focuses on business and technology solutions, and the second on policy solutions, particularly the alignment of agricultural and ICT policies.
Policies to Promote Rural Connectivity and Agricultural Development: Effective strategies view ICT as a function of availability, awareness, affordability, and attractiveness.
This second panel focuses on policy-making to address ICTs in agricultural development.
The panel is expected to touch on each of the areas mentioned above.
Eric White is Managing Associate and Lead Economist at the international development firm Integra LLC, and ICT consultant for USAID's Global Broadband and Innovations (GBI) program. He focuses on supporting ministries, regulatory agencies, and private companies to expand affordable broadband connectivity into rural areas. Since 2010, Eric and the GBI team have contributed to rural telecommunications deployments or assisted in improving the rural telecommunications enabling environment in ten countries, including Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and Tanzania. He believes strongly in the power of telecommunications to help rural people overcome poverty, and is looking forward to sharing ideas with everyone at the conference.
The entry of broadband in Kenya is a paradigm shift from a narrowband era predominant in the 90s. In late 90s, the effort around telecommunication growth was narrowband to deliver voice, which had a poor penetration of slightly below 1%. The greatest concern therefore, was developing and implementing a strategy to increase the penetration. Policy and regulatory reforms driven by the government introduced competitive supply of the services increasing penetration to the current 78%. The efforts addressed the needs for voice services apart from certain marginalized areas.
Emerging applications however have increasingly required broadband but unfortunately, due to uncoordinated efforts, the penetration is still poor at 6.3% at the household level. This is inadequate when premised against Vision 2030, the Kenya Constitution 2010 and cognizant of a regional call for the national broadband under African Connect Goal 1 & 2 by 2015. For Kenya to move forward, a comprehensive framework to develop and exploit broadband was critical. This was the motivation of a National Broadband Strategy (NBS).
The NBS, a US$3 Billion, 5-year rolling programme based on public/private partnership is an initiative spearheaded by the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology (MoICT), in collaboration with the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), with technical assistance from USAID’s Global Broadband and Innovations (GBI) Program. MoIC established a National Steering Committee comprising representatives from the Communications Commission of Kenya, National Communications Secretariat, E-Government Directorate, Vision 2030 Secretariat, Kenya ICT Board, and local and international technical experts from USAID’s Global Broadband Innovation Program. The Committee’s mandate was to guide the overall development of a comprehensive strategy for promoting national development of broadband-based Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for the country.
NBS was achieved through a consensus-based strategy and by active collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders in both the public and private sectors .A multi-sector consultative approach involving relevant institutions in the country was adopted through a series of stakeholder meetings and workshops. The initial draft of the strategy was developed through a technical working group meeting comprising experts on the thematic areas of the broadband ecosystem. This draft was subsequently subjected to national consultation through multiple media channels, national print media, online forums, website as well as social media. The inputs received formed the foundation of the NBS.
Kenya’s experience is noteworthy; on one hand, the extensive consultation was very useful to enhance ownership of the NBS, it brought together actors who never thought that they were part of the broadband ecosystem. On the other hand, the consultations are slow winded processes and negotiations among competing interests were difficult. Selection and appointment of a neutral National Steering Committee was critical to shepherd the consultation process.
Regarding implementation, a challenge for the use of ICT, especially in the rural areas, has been the capacity of the demand side. NBS will see an expanded programme to build capacity of ICT use launched in schools, train trainers and more importantly support research and innovation to support an emerging ICT sector. The NBS is a multi-stakeholder driven process with government partnerships driving a range of the activities. The presentation will discuss the experiences of development and implementation of NBS, with a special focus on rural development and lessons learned so far.
ICT Analyst, Global Broadband Innovation programme/Integra LLC
Mr. Hamed Khan Achakzai is an agriculturist in the remote district Qila Abdullah, living in the province of Balochistan in Pakistan. Mr. Achakzai owns apple orchards and transports his produce either south to the port city of Karachi or upcountry to the northern part of Pakistan. Like any good businessman, he has to decide which transportation route would be more cost effective. Not just that, the apples have to be plucked at the right time before they are transported – not too early and not too late. Unfortunately, these types of information are not available to those living in remote areas.
On the other hand, ICTs have been revolutionizing the way business is done across a variety of sectors. ICTs now provide new opportunities to people living in rural areas, improving their bargaining powers by providing enhanced market knowledge and commodity prices from the comfort of their homes provided one vital element is available – that is “Connectivity”.
To connect rural areas on a sustained basis however, is not economically lucrative, because of extremely low returns for the fully privatised and deregulated telecom sector. Governments already being cash strapped, connectivity is the first barrier to ICT use in villages. Against this backdrop the concept of universal service funds (USFs) was introduced. All licensed telecom operators of a country contribute, according to their revenues, to a Fund managed by the Government, and the Government uses it to subsidise connectivity in the economically less profitable areas.
In reality, the USF concept that holds so much promise does not work the way it is supposed to. Because of the inefficient and bureaucratic handling of some USFs, and the Funds lacking power to make decisions on their own, Governments cannot always run them efficiently. In some cases, the inflows from operators continue and billions of dollars start to pile up in USFs. This is when some countries start experimenting with innovative models of Governance and Organizational structures of USF. One such innovative USF model is that of Pakistan’s USF Company.
Unlike all previous USFs in the developing world, Pakistan’s USF is a ‘not-for-profit’ independent Company, under the Companies Law of the land, which works as a Public-Private-Partnership enterprise. Its independence is further assured as it is governed by a Board of Directors, which is equally balanced by directors coming from public and private sectors. It doesn’t stop here. All stakeholders – from political leadership to the industry - are represented on the Board.
In addition to the unique governance model, USF Pakistan awards subsidies strictly through open competitive bidding and all its operations are carried out with complete transparency. In a little over five years USF Pakistan has provided broadband to 260 small towns and cities (nearly half-a-million working subscriptions) including more than a thousand schools and libraries, 300 Community Broadband Centers, more than 4,000 kilometers of Optic Fiber Cables in tough remote regions connecting 67 of the hundred-plus unserved sub-districts and Voice telecom services to more than 4,000 unserved remote villages. Many more of all the above are either being implemented or in the pipeline.
Thanks to the innovation in Governance and Organizational model, connectivity is creating awareness about new business opportunities, bringing producers and new buyers together (mostly without middle-men), providing access to improved farming practices, and providing opportunity for other improvements through customers’ feedback, like timely pruning, watering, packaging and categorizing.
Former CEO, Pakistan Universal Service Fund Company
A recurring theme amongst development practitioners when discussing the role of ICTs in the attainment of national development goals has been how to align national ICT policies, strategies and/or plans with traditionally established development agendas – i.e. those relating to Agriculture, Education, Health etc. The results have been attempts to first side stream and then integrate or mainstream ICTs into development programmes with varying (performance) results.
The Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) aims to support twenty million farmers with fertilizer and other requisite agro inputs. This includes the implementation of an eWallet that will become the means through which the Government will disburse fertilizer subsidies directly to registered, qualified farmers. The roll-out of the GES and eWallet initiative has highlighted the connectivity challenges facing rural areas in Nigeria.
The core objectives of the Nigerian Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) include the promotion of universal access to telephone services, and the empowerment of rural populations. The Accelerated Mobile Phone Expansion Programme subsidizes the deployment of Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) and other passive infrastructure in underserved and un-served communities in Nigeria. Collaboration between the USPF and FMARD has led to the phased implementation of the Accelerated Mobile Phone Expansion Programme along geographic clusters defined by concentrations of farming communities. The reality however is that where farmers in need of connectivity exist, so too do public health workers and their patients; school children and their teachers; public servants and the citizens they serve; businesses and their customers etc. The adopted approach to rolling out the Accelerated Mobile Phone Expansion Programme therefore alleviates the connectivity challenges of the GES whilst at the same time achieves the USPF’s objective of empowering rural dwellers.
Asst Director (Head, Infrastructure Projects USPF), Nigerian Communications Commission