Farmers and their families, who constitute the vast majority of the rural poor in many developing countries, face a vicious circle of poverty. Their physical isolation is compounded by poor infrastructure that makes it difficult and time consuming for them to access services and markets. They have few physical or financial assets that they can leverage to improve their livelihoods or protect them from unexpected stresses such as disease or drought. They have limited access to government services and little power to enforce their rights. The land they farm is often of poor quality and dependent on unreliable rain. They have inadequate access to vital inputs such as seeds and fertilizer.
Their physical isolation and the disadvantages it generates are compounded by significant intangible impediments. They have insufficient access to information and communication resources and networks, and thus to information that is vital to their productivity, including information about cultivation techniques, new crop varieties and ways to combat crop diseases and related threats to their yields. They have little access to information about markets and prices for their crops. It is difficult and time consuming for them to collaborate with others to protect their common interests and advocate for their rights.
Meanwhile, transformations in agriculture are taking place and these transformations risk passing them by or aggravating their situation. Urbanization and economic growth are increasing the demand for higher value-added agricultural products both in their own country and region and around the world. Regional and global agricultural value chains are becoming more integrated. Also, the growing volatility of regional and global commodity markets make the rural poor more vulnerable, both as producers and consumers.
Yet, evidence is mounting that ICT, if deployed intelligently and affordably, can help create a “virtuous circle” of innovation that can benefit even the poorest farmers and increasingly integrate them into local, regional and global markets. This virtuous circle in the mobile sphere consists of the interplay of four elements: access, affordability, appliance innovation, and applications.
The technical developments make possible a dramatic increase in the information, communication, transaction and networking services and resources available to the rural poor and to agricultural development more broadly.