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Congratulations to Bhutan! Now a Global ICTforAg Leader

By Josh Woodard on July 18, 2016

bhutan-e-agriculutre-policyWith the recent publication of its e-RNR (renewable natural resources) masterplan, the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan has joined an exclusive club of only a handful of countries globally, including Rwanda and Côte d’Ivoire, to have a concerted national strategy for how to use ICT in agriculture.

bhutan-ictforagWhile many countries have some mention of ICT for agriculture or e-agriculture in national level strategies, such as India, Bangladesh, and the Caribbean Community, they tend to be either a brief reference to agriculture in national ICT plans or a brief reference to ICT in national agriculture plans.

Considering the diversity and complexity of the agriculture sector, as well as its sheer size (a third of the world’s workforce are in agriculture), you wouldn’t be wrong in wondering how a few paragraphs in a national ICT or agriculture plan would be sufficient.

Given this, it shouldn’t be surprising that ICT for agriculture, despite some successes, generally has not had the same level of impact yet as ICT in other sectors, such as health or education, which have often—but certainly not always—been a bit more organized.

There are a number of reasons for this, which I won’t get into here, but one reason may just be the lack of coherent national visions and inclusive action plans aimed specifically at ICT and agriculture that help to align all actors (from regulators to large agribusinesses and technology firms all the way down to smallholder farmers) on a common path.

E-agriculture Strategy Guide

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Telecommunication Union have been leading the way on testing this assumption, to see whether national e-agriculture strategies can help countries more effectively make use of information and communications technologies to improve efficiencies and productivity in the agriculture sector.

e-agriculutre-fao-ituThis is not just an academic exercise. With some estimates saying that global food production will need to double by 2050 to keep up with population growth, it is crucial for all countries to be thinking strategically about how they can best leverage the ever advancing field of ICT for these ends.

To get countries started, the FAO and ITU developed an E-agriculture Strategy Guide, which I was fortunate to enough to help co-author, that provides governments with helpful guidance and templates on the A to Z of developing a well-informed, inclusive, and actionable e-agriculture strategy.

They have also provided technical support to several countries to help them implement this process, with Bhutan being one of the first recipients.

E-agriculture Solutions Forum

Expanding beyond the initial pilot countries, from August 29-31 they will also be hosting an E-agriculture Solutions Forum in Thailand, followed by a two-day training-of-trainers on the development of a national e-agriculture strategy on September 1-2. This event will bring together around 120 government officials from across Asia-Pacific, along with solutions providers and other practitioners—so if you happen to be an ICT for Ag solutions provider looking to showcase your work, make sure to contact them.

Now, of course, it would be naïve to think that just having a national strategy alone is going to all of a sudden lead to an explosion of successful ICT for ag interventions. The strategy is just a starting point. If it is not used, it just becomes another stack of papers on a shelf somewhere in a government office. But if developed in a way that is truly inclusive, including the voices of all relevant stakeholders in both its development and implementation, then I do believe that it can have a positive impact.

Filed Under: Agriculture, Government
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Written by
Josh Woodard is a Regional ICT & Digital Finance Specialist at FHI 360 and regularly publishes on LinkedIn. His views do not necessarily represent those of his employer or its project funders.
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One Comment to “Congratulations to Bhutan! Now a Global ICTforAg Leader”

  1. Know more about the FAO-ITU E-agriculture Solutions Forum – http://www.fao.org/asiapacific/events/detail-events/en/c/1343/

    Gerard Sylvester (gerard.sylvester@fao.org)
    Knowledge & Information Management Officer
    Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations