E-AGRICULTURE DEVELOPMENT IN PAKISTAN
By DR. AMANULLAH CHAUDHRY
Feb 28 - Mar 06, 2005
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.
The Digital 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
Through 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 mitigation measures.
(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 E-AGRICULTURE
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 tools.
The development 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 agro-technologies.
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 PAKISTAN
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 management.
The challenge 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
Under this 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 conceptualized.
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.
1. 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.
A. AWARENESS: By creating awareness among the potential users about services, we are providing, we can increase the stage of ICT services.
B. PROTECTION: we have to protect our market area and potential from undue competition.
C. LATENT MARKET: There may exist a market for different modified services, which may not be apparent to us. To tap this third variable should be considered.
2. 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.
(a) COMPUTER OPERATION SKILLS: This needs to be continuously upgraded to keep the operator competitive, in the ever-changing technology and requirements.
(b) HARDWARE SKILLS: Training in hardware maintenance is needed for the operators to keep the machines proper and functional.
(c) ENTREPRENEURIAL SKILLS: we need to train the operators to enhance their ability to attract customers, retain customers and run the business.
3. 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.
1. 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.
2. 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 nation.
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 farmers.
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.
3. 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 channels.
4. 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.
Farmers themselves 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: firstname.lastname@example.org