Now the world is
heading towards a concept of global village connecting every
organization and individuals through Internet. Pakistani villages are
yet to receive connectivity. Technology as a tool has broken many
barriers in availing, using information across the world, and
increased the efficiency of organization and individuals.
Technological up gradation continuously leads to change in the
instruments used, making them cheaper and reaching the households in a
faster pace. However, there exists a great difference in the usage
between urban and rural, rich and poor, developed and developing
countries. New thinking and social responses stem from the digital
economy, driven by computers and the Internet. The coming of the
Internet has turned many industries in knowledge-based industries, at
least to some extent. After a certain point, returns increase with
each unit of investment. As a result, the Law of Increasing Returns is
becoming phenomenon of the digital economic age.
A currant scenario
of a rapidly expanding population, limited natural resource base, and
trade liberalization, the expansion of agricultural production in
Pakistan will depend largely on scientific and technological
improvement. Here, the role of E-agriculture assumes great importance.
E-agriculture can help solve the problem of food crises, and can
contribute to the attainment of sustainable agriculture development in
Pakistan. Timely and relevant scientific and technology-based
information through E-agriculture is vital to enable small-scale
farmers to make effective use of their resources, become competitive,
and raise their income.
In its broadest
sense, e-agriculture includes all transitions, which use information
technology. It encompasses everything that allows us to electronically
gather, generate, store, analyze, distribute, or otherwise use
information. Although the Internet has received the most attention, it
includes other technology such as microchips, monitors, hard drives,
and software. It also includes traditional telecommunication
technologies, such as cell phones and fax machines — anything related
to the electronic use of information. More recently, it has begun to
include broadcast technologies such as cable TV that are offering
access to the Internet.
At present, there
are two major types of computer networks that are used for
e-agricultural electronic data inter-change (EDI) and Internet; EDI is
older than Internet. While EDI networks are private, the Internet is
open to the general public. Any firm or individual with the right
equipment may access it. The Internet can be used for transactions
between firms, as well as transactions between firms and individuals.
Another network technology, "extranet" is a hybrid of EDI and the
Internet. An extranet uses the Internet to transfer information, but
encodes the information to maintain privacy.
In 1996, the
famous book "The Digital Economy" written by the economist, Don
Tapscott, described the new economic system created as a result of the
wide-spread use of the information superhighway, and announced the
coming of the digital economy age.
Economy (or New Economy) is a consequence of the economic principles
of the age of networked intelligence. New thinking and social
responses, as opposed to the familiar economic principles of the past,
stem from the digital economy, driven by computers and the Internet.
For example, the Law of Diminishing Returns of traditional economics
states that in the real world, similar production investments bring
about diminishing returns. But in the digital economy, all information
can be created, transmitted, and stored in digital form. The coming of
the Internet has turned many industries into
knowledge-based-industries, at least to some extent. After a certain
point, returns increase with each unit of investment. As a result the
Law of Increasing Returns is becoming a common phenomenon of the
digital economic age.
Today, a new
paradigm in agriculture development is fast emerging. The stage
appears to be set toward the achievement of sustainable agricultural
development and food security in the 21st century through the wide use
of e-agriculture. Many examples exist to illustrate this observation,
such as use of IT to reduce agricultural losses, forecast
productivity, and enhance production with proper vertical integration
of the production centers and the markets. The exploration of the
technology revolution has likewise made information on agriculture
available worldwide and on demand. In most developed countries,
information technology is intensively used in agricultural
administration, research and development, extension, marketing and
managing farmers' organizations.
(1) E-AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION
information technology, agricultural extension can be more
diversified, more knowledge-intensive, more demand-driven, and thus
more effective in meeting farmers' information needs. It can bring new
information services to rural areas where farmers as users, will have
much grater control over current information channels.
Some of uses are:
Timely dissemination of agricultural information through online
information services, education and training, monitoring and
consultation, and transaction and processing; farmers' access to
agricultural information through databases established by government
and farmers' organizations; facilitation of interaction among
researchers, extension workers and farmers; question and answer
services where experts respond to queries on specialized subjects for
greater efficiency in delivering services for overall agricultural
development; providing up-to-date information about subjects useful to
farmers, such as packages of production techniques/practices,
management skills, market information, weather forecasting, input
supplies, credit availability, agricultural statistics, and
agricultural policy and programmes; and providing early warning signs
about crop and livestock disease/pest problems, natural disasters, and
(2) E-AGRICULTURAL MARKETING
Efforts should be
made to incorporate IT in the following areas to facilitate
agricultural marketing: collection of a large body of marketing
information for various commodities and markets, and enabling the
farmers to find the marketing information they need: use of IT in
wholesales markets and distribution centers of farm products: services
providing information to farmers regarding farm business and
management; and expansion of the use of e-commerce for direct linkages
between producers, traders, retailers, and suppliers.
(3) E-FARMERS' ORGANIZATION
This can help
farmers' organization in re-orienting themselves toward the overall
agricultural development of small-scale producers. With the
appropriate information, organized small-scale producers can even have
a competitive edge over larger operations. The expanding uses of IT by
farmers' organization worldwide are as follows: use of It to supply
farms with commercial inputs, farm credit, marketing, and other
support services; computerization and application of IT in improving
the efficiency of these organizations; dissemination of technical
information to members, thereby improving the extension function and
information service of these organizations; and provision of access to
computers and the Internet to cooperative members.
COUNTRY EXPERIENCES IN
In this country,
an agricultural information and networking system covering research
centers and institutes is now connected to national and global
networks to enhance research management functions, programming,
communication of research results, and access to national and
worldwide scientific and technical information. This information
networks has greatly helped the scientific community in their research
and development activities.
IT and its
practical contributions to agriculture and rural development have been
instrumental in providing emerging solution to many agricultural
issues. These includes system applications services such as efficient
and low-cost field data acquisition; case-based knowledge management
and decision support; geographical information system; distributed
system and grid technology (grid-based decision support system; data
mediation and broker); multilingual information exchange;
e-agribusiness and tractability; easy user interface; and data-mining
and use of information technology in agriculture is quite advanced;
compared with other Asian countries. IT is widely used in e-business
or e-commerce; education and training programs for elite farmers,
which have contributed much to the enhancement of value-added
agriculture; precision agriculture through information of plant and
animal technologies; utilization of IT for agricultural environment
management; and Internet consultation via cyber dissemination of
In this country
different IT modalities have been developed to strengthen agricultural
extension. These include various information systems and services that
institutionalize data and information gathering, processing,
synthesis, and integration in support of the implementation of
national and regional R&D and technology management programs.
In this country
under its agricultural knowledge information system, which forms an
integrated agricultural information community, various data and
knowledge banks on agricultural production, marketing, and human
resources development will be consolidated. The importance of
international collaboration, particularly in knowledge and
technologies that could be commonly shared among Asian countries,
considering their similarities in terms of small-scale farming and
cropping system is evident. This point to the need for Pakistan to
take on the challenge of emerging trends in information technology
with view to promote sustainable agricultural development. These cases
showed that while advances in IT have dramatically transformed the way
in which people live, learn, work, and communicate, the level of use
among developed and developing countries varies considerably. In Japan
and Korea, advancement in the use of IT in agriculture has now been
overcoming the limitations of paper-based dissemination programmes,
rendering the application of IT in agriculture boundless.
PROSPECTS OF E-AGRICULTURE IN
In general, the
future directions in e-agriculture point to the need to enhance human
resources, equipment/facilities, infrastructure, and policy support
system. The most pressing concerns are the lack of trained personnel
on IT; poor network connectivity and network infrastructure in rural
areas limiting the use of IT in extension, complex and dynamic nature
of agriculture which requires continuous assessment of data fields for
decision support systems; limited computer literacy by farmers, making
it difficult to convince them of the benefits of e-agriculture; and
the lack of policy environment/support for better information network
ahead is for Pakistan is to explore the uncommon opportunities
presented by the information technology revolution, to ensure a
vibrant responsive, sustainable, and productive agriculture toward the
attainment of food security and a broad-based economic growth.
STRATEGY FOR SUSTAINABLE ACCESS
TO RURAL PAKISTAN
programme, Internet kiosks may be developed throughout the rural areas
of Pakistan. The objective should be to promote rural development with
the help of these kiosks on a sustainable basis and to build kiosks
viable in the log run. The following methodology is proposed.
The persons may be
selected from very poor families to run kiosks so that it becomes an
income generating activity for such families. Given their background,
it is impractical to expect them to become successful entrepreneurs
immediately. Hence they have to be supported at the initial stage.
However, to make them viable, we have to ensure that all operators
become independent and income earning at the earliest. There may be
three stages for them in becoming entrepreneurs gradually over a
period of time. A kiosk operator is expected to reach the final stage
of entrepreneurship step by step. In this article this process may be
The evolution of a
kiosk operator starts from being an employer to a contractual owner.
The speed at which the evolution from one stage to the next occurs
depends upon three important variables.
* The first
variable is the potential market area to which kiosk is catering.
* The second
variable is the ability of the kiosk operator and the kind of efforts
she/he puts into, in running the kiosk.
* And the third
variable is our ability to identify ICT (information communication and
technology) needs in the villages and provide usable applications to
satisfy such needs.
The first stage of
evolution of an operator, the employee, begins when an operator starts
a kiosk. At this stage, an honorarium is paid to ensure that operator
gets an income of at least Rs1000 per month after covering all the
costs of running a kiosk. At this stage, an honorarium is paid to
ensure that the operator gets an income of say at least Rs1000 per
month after covering all the costs of running a kiosk. Once the
operator starts earning more than Rs1000 a month consistently, she/he
enters the 'contractual owner' stage theoretically. Once the operator
has reached the second stage, then a contract with the operator for
one or two years can be drawn. Once the operator starts and continues
to earn a decent income of around Rs2000 per month consistently she/he
becomes eligible to own the kiosk. Once we are convinced of this, we
can transfer the ownership of the kiosk to the operator.
Now the three
important variables will be examined and how they can be influenced to
achieve the objective.
THE MARKET AREA AND ITS POTENTIAL
The market area of
kiosk is the area in which it operates. The area here is not the
geographic area but the human population, services and institutions in
the village. The market potential is the total effective demand, both
latent and apparent for ICT services. We cannot change the market area
and its potential. However, we can influence it to improve our chances
of reaching our objective in the following ways.
By creating awareness among the potential users about services, we are
providing, we can increase the stage of ICT services.
we have to
protect our market area and potential from undue competition.
exist a market for different modified services, which may not be
apparent to us. To tap this third variable should be considered.
ABILITY OF THE OPERATORS
Here the ability
of the operators includes their computer operation skills, ability to
attract customer and ability to run the kiosk as a service cum profit
center. The ability can be enhanced to get better results. Different
aspects are listed below.
COMPUTER OPERATION SKILLS: This
needs to be continuously upgraded to keep the operator competitive, in
the ever-changing technology and requirements.
HARDWARE SKILLS: Training in
hardware maintenance is needed for the operators to keep the machines
proper and functional.
ENTREPRENEURIAL SKILLS: we need to
train the operators to enhance their ability to attract customers,
retain customers and run the business.
ABILITY TO IDENTIFY LATENT NEEDS
A majority of the
users being unaware of technology and with education levels being low
in rural areas, one can not expect the customers to use the computers
and Internet on their own. Hence, we have to identify the areas in
which it can be used and develop applications accordingly. Here we
have to think about replacing the existing ways of doing things with
ICT services, e-post, e-commerce are such applications. In e-commerce,
the existing commission agents replaced by a more efficient
technology. How for we will be able to identify important needs and
cater to them with ICT will determine the success. To speed up the
process of evolution of kiosk operators, we should observe village
life keenly for identifying needs and catering to them.
Internet facility is available through the country almost 2000 cities
and towns have the access. But Internet is not being used practically
in these areas. The literacy rate in the country is not satisfactory
and especially in rural areas it is too low. Making kiosks can cover
this flaw. Each Internet kiosk should have PC with 10 GB hard disks
and with other accessories. In remote areas Internet facility may be
provided with the help of Wireless Local Loop. The printers may be
provided to all kiosks. Commercial and development services should be
provided in these kiosks. These include computer education at low
cost, e-governance, eye-care applications, agriculture information,
innovative technologies for grassroots development in agriculture and
animal husbandry, e-mailing, browsing and e-commerce.
Korea is the leading country in e-agriculture. In 1999, 24 percent of
farm households were using computers. It is high compared to farmers
in most Asian countries or indeed in the world. The high level of
computer use among Korean farmers is the result of a government
programme to promote the use of information technology throughout the
The first step is
to supply farmers with computers they can afford. The government has a
contract with one of Korea's largest PC manufacturers to provide a
standardized good-quality computer at a price 20 percent lower than
the current market price. There is also a programme for collecting
used computers in cities and sending them to rural areas for use by
The second step is
to teach farmers how to use their computers. Korea has been mobilizing
teams of student's volunteers. They go to rural areas and hold
computers classes for farmers. Similar approaches for development of
e-agriculture can be followed in Pakistan.
Computers are useful because they give farmers better access to
farming technology. This helps make their farming more efficient. On
line data basis can provide farmers with current market prices for a
wide range of agricultural commodities. In the short term, these help
them to decide where and when to market their produce. In the long run
term, it helps them to decide what crops to plant. Another interesting
new opportunity is e-marketing, in which farmers and consumers use the
Internet to contact each other directly and open new marketing
The main problem for farmers who use computers for agricultural
information is the lack of content. There is need to build up the full
range of the web-based information resources which farmers need. The
government should provide a range of agricultural information services
on the web. These include a marketing information system for farmers
and an expert system called the Farming Knowledge Management System.
should provide web-based information resources. The government may
help them in this task, together with a number of local computer
enthusiasts and the local government.
The author is from Department of Agronomy, University of Agriculture,
Faisalabad. E-mail: email@example.com