ICT for sustainable socioeconomic development

09 Aug 2017

Now every sector in the world is introducing digital technologies to its day to day endeavors. Agriculture, fiance, health, education and other development sectors are becoming unthinkable without technology. Technology is easing and facilitating life in an efficient and effective manner even if it has its own demerits.

The Government of Ethiopian has made the development of information and communications technology (ICT) as one of its strategic priorities. The endorsed and currently enforce ICT policy is a demonstration of its commitment to the development of ICT both as an industry and an enabler of socioeconomic transformation.

The policy stems from the recognition of ICT as the key driver and facilitator for transforming Ethiopia's predominantly subsistence-agriculture economy to an information and knowledge-based economy.

One of the guiding principles of the Ethiopian government ICT policy is that the government shall actively collaborate with the private sector, civil society organizations and communities to promote and encourage the use of ICT towards transforming Ethiopia to knowledge and information age. The policy also promotes the necessary coordination to establish cooperative practices and spirit amongst various stakeholders for a cost-effective development of ICT. Thus, it is creating favorable environment to enhance the exploitation of the sector towards overall fast development by elaboration and institutionalization of the national ICT development framework and the creation of the former Ethiopian ICT Development Agency (EICTDA), and the current Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT). The Ministry is responsible to coordinate and supervise the planning and implementation of Communication and Information Technology development initiatives and ICT policies.

According to the information from the Ethiopian Telecommunications, the ICT sector in Ethiopia has seen substantial growth over the last decade and plus years. Mobile subscriber base has now grown to 57.4 Million and total customers including fixed, mobile and internet are exceeded to 59 Million.

The country has also seen a substantial growth in mobile internet users largely fuelled by the availability of CDMA across the country. The government has continued to invest in the communications infrastructure to meet this growing demand.

Ethiopia has also been working towards stimulating the demand for the underlying infrastructure by increasing access to the public sector network.

The government has already been active in interconnecting schools, agricultural research institutions, districts (Woredas) and promoting applications that bring efficiency in delivery of public services. Some of the achievements include the launch of a Government Portal, a Justice Information System, a Driver and Vehicle Management Information System, a National Records and Library Management Information System, a Public Sector Human Resources Information System, a Trade Registry System, and an Exam and Placement System and so on.

A multi-lingual national portal operational is also one of the achievements in the recent years. Most government ministries and agencies have now their own portals that are connected to the national government portal. These ministries and agencies use their portals to deliver information and transaction services to citizens. The portals provide a platform to interact with citizens through various e-participation features.

The government of Ethiopia has also started to put infrastructure in place for an "IT Park" to attract ICT service companies, particularly those involved in outsourcing. This IT Park, located approximately 18 miles outside of Addis Ababa in Bole Lemi, is now officially opened and private IT companies are expected to set up shops there soon. And the government has also plans to manufacture and export IT equipment from this park.

Ethiopia's ICT landscape is rapidly evolving. The current contribution of the communication sector to the GDP is a little which is estimated to be over 2 per cent when compared to the 4 per cent average in the East Africa region.

Experts in the field of agriculture suggested that Information and Communication Technology(ICT) has lots of benefits in the area. Agriculture is an important sector with the majority of the rural population in developing countries, including Ethiopia depend on it. The sector faces major challenges in enhancing production in a situation of dwindling natural resources necessary for production. The growing demand for agricultural products, however, also offers opportunities for producers to sustain and improve their livelihoods. Hence, ICT technologies play an important role in addressing these challenges and uplifting the livelihoods of the rural people.

The benefits of ICT for increased agricultural productivity and strengthening the agricultural sector includes the provision of timely and updated information on agriculture related issues such as new variety releases, emergence of new threats such as diseases, weather forecast, pricing control, warning alerts etc. Now farmers across the globe and in Ethiopia have an immediate communication using their mobile and applications on it to get update information.

It is said that ICT enhances agricultural productivity in various ways. One way is through enabling stakes in the stream to understand and address global agriculture development challenges. The continued increase in globalization and integration of food markets has intensified competition and efficacy in the agriculture sector, and has brought unique opportunities to include more smallholders into supply chains. As we know agriculture faces a range of modern and serious challenges, particularly in developing countries as it is exposed to price shocks, climate change, and continued deficiencies in infrastructure in rural areas.

The use of ICT in agriculture is not just limited to the above listed benefits. It is also crucial to increasing efficiency, productivity and sustainability of small scale farms. Information about pest and disease control, especially early warning systems, new varieties, new innovations to optimize production and regulations for quality control could also be assisted with such ICT technologies.

Moreover, better markets resulting from informed decisions about future crops and commodities and best time and place to sell and buy them could also be easily managed through ICT. Similarly up-to-date market information on prices for commodities, inputs and consumer trends could be well understood using ICT.

ICT Strengthen capacities in various ways and it also reduce social isolation, widen the perspective of local communities in terms of national or global developments, open up new business opportunities and allow easier contact with friends and relatives. It also assists the sector in facilitating agricultural research endeavors and the implementation of new findings as well.

According to the Survey on the use of ICT, Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute( EIAR), which is one of the oldest and largest agricultural research systems in Africa that comprises of 17 research centers and many sub centers located across various ecological zones in the nation, is now connecting all its zones and centers via Virtual Private Network (VPN) mainly for administrative communications and knowledge sharing services.

Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), ICT Directorate Tadesse Anberbir told The Ethiopian Herald that the institute has recently conducted a survey to assess the availability and relevance of the use of ICT for Agricultural research in EIAR.

He said “We conducted the survey through online questioners and interviews. And we have found that the use of ICT for agricultural research in the institute is still in its initial stage and lack of ICT policy and awareness about ICT for agriculture (e-Agriculture) by researchers and administrative staffs is the main challenge in most research centers.”

The poor ICT infrastructure, lack of centralized agricultural research information system, access and dissemination of the huge resources currently available in EIAR are also critical challenges that we found in our study, the director underlined.

Tadesse further stated that all research centers should be upgraded, awareness should be created and e-Agriculture policy and framework should be crafted at institutional level for researchers to use ICT and the underlying infrastructures efficiently.

Many energy consuming tasks are now solved as EIAR is connecting its various zones, research centers and important stakes across the nation through ICT and things are easily moving. He said adding implementing ICT in areas such as agriculture has immense advantages.

He further said that EIAR-AgriNet, which is a network of 17 agricultural research centers within EIAR, is fully administered by the institute and currently all the research centers are connected via a virtual private network (VPN) which is dedicated for EIAR.

“The main objective of the EIAR-AgriNet is to virtually connect all research centers which are physically located all over the country and in the future EIAR-Net is supposed to provide advanced services such as Video Conference, E-Learning, Cloud and etc.

EIAR-Agri Net portal which is an extra net portal that has been developed to share resources and access different services from Head Quarter and offer trainings and other connections could easily be conducted for most research centers mainly on the use of different services for researchers and administrative staffs via the portal.

However, he stressed accessing EIAR-Agri Net services from any where is challenging mainly because router is required in each center. In the near future we will buy routers from the Ethiopian telecommunication corporation (ETC) and do the configuration for all research centers.

As the world is tapping the potential of the technology, Ethiopia is beginning technological revolution which is crucial for efficient timely repose in all sectors including agriculture. And it is told by practitioners in the area that the use of ICT for agriculture like in many other sector is crucial.

BY YARED GEBREMEDEN

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