Information and communication technologies

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) refers to the broad range of hardware, software, network infrastructure and media that enable the processing, storage and sharing of information and communication both among humans and computers, locally and globally" (InfoDev, Making Sense of ICT for Development, April 2007).

Nadia Cappiello reports on the theme of Information and Communication Technologies and explains how developing countries have increasingly turned to ICT over the last decade as an important tool for sustainable agricultural development and poverty reduction. New technologies are becoming more accessible to rural communities. Farmers now rely on user-friendly ICT – such as mobile phones – to share their knowledge and information daily.

The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), as one of the actors in the pilot project in the Information Communication Technology and Knowledge Management Programme of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR); ICARDA is committed to implementing innovative ways of sharing knowledge with ICT. This means improving interactions between scientists and farmers through new participatory research methods. In this context, a story-telling conference – The International Farmers Conference – was organized by ICARDA in 2008 to help rural people exchange their indigenous knowledge about farming with researchers while using new ICT tools (for example, farmers were shown how to make short video clips of stories that they could send by cell phone or upload on the conference site).

Information and communication technology for weather forecasting

ICARDA uses weather forecasting ICT tools, including meteorological stations and global information systems (GIS), so that scientists can collect and elaborate data to address the challenges that rural communities in dry areas face from the climatic stresses of aridity, drought, heat and cold.

Weather stations are used to collect daily climatic data (for example  precipitation, air temperature, land temperature) that are analysed by researchers to determine timely planting, crop development, climatic risk assessment and water-use efficiency practices. During the learning event between ICARDA and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), some attendees had the opportunity to visit the Aleppo Plain project area and see one of the meteorological stations in northern Syria. This station is located in the Surbaya Research Centre, a specialized hub of irrigation management solutions, new irrigation techniques and supplemental irrigation research.

GIS is another powerful ICT tool that plays a fundamental role in ICARDA's research. GIS aims to capture, manage, integrate, manipulate and display spatially-referenced data through mapping. It also helps ICARDA researchers to accurately target their analyses/studies while detecting biophysical constraints to agricultural development in dry areas. In addition, GIS technology helps identify potential areas where new technologies and new scientific tools developed by scientists can be applied to raise agricultural productivity, enhance farm incomes and promote better natural resource management. The tool is often used for integrated assessments of land degradation and water-harvesting techniques that consider different parameters, including economic and social factors.
During ICARDA's facilities tour, the participants of the workshop visited the GIS unit and interacted with Dr.Eddy de Paw, who briefed the audience on the potential use of GIS in the context of climate change.

Climate change will particularly affect dry land areas in developing countries and poor rural communities. Early detection of the so-called "hot spots" of vulnerability, where the worst consequences are expected, is crucial to address policy initiatives and target research to help farmers cope with water scarcity and other environmental constraints. ICARDA scientists, using GIS analysis of satellite images, have been able to rapidly identify, at a low cost, such hot spots in the CWANA region (for example North Africa, West Asia, Central Asia and part of the Horn of Africa), where dry land areas are mostly concentrated.

Long-term projections also have been produced by GIS technology using modelling instead of realistic data. Although this type of climate change forecasting is done at a research level because the best modelling techniques are not yet established, some international organizations, including the World Food Programme, and government bodies have already commissioned ICARDA climate change/long-term projection maps to identify climatic stress risks (e.g. droughts, land degradation, famines) and develop strategies for the upcoming years.

In IFAD, GIS technology could be used for poverty mapping and assessment to improve:

  • targeting of needed interventions and investments for poverty alleviation

  • the availability of information on issues related to small-scale agriculture

IFAD's Communication Division GIS officer could collaborate with ICARDA's GIS unit in developing models for GIS analysis of data provided by IFAD's Programme Management Division; a pilot initiative could be led by IFAD's Near East and North Africa Division. In addition, training courses in interpreting and using the data could be organized in-house.