As this e-discussion advances, it appears that we agree that ICTs may contribute to change Agri-food systems in Asia, among other drivers of change. We also agree on these major drivers of change currently at work both in Agrifood Chain and ICT. We have discussed a lot the likely changes and we know that current trends might not lead to desirable futures for the agrifood chains and in particular for Asian farmers.
I would like to share with you some questions and thoughts about disruptions leading to different paths for ICT and Agrifood chains in Asia (and not only).
The Major Disruption: change the way ICTs are designed. Most ICTs used in agriculture and to be used in agriculture are not initially designed to serve the needs of (Asian) farmers. Most Asian farmers are “ICT technology takers” in the same sense that they are “price takers” for the product they sell. This leads to a standardization of the ICT user while we all acknowledge the diversity of farmers in Asia and the diversity of their needs. Design ICT that will make people happy to farm, to work and to live in rural areas. The true “ICT for sustainable agriculture” transformation will not be in the pursuit of the top down conception of ICT adoption by farmers. It will not be either in the continuation of the development of technologies by a class of innovators from the West and the North, carrying their own views about what farmers need or could use. It will be, in Asia, but also elsewhere, through co-creation of locally generated technologies where the users team up with innovators in the design of the new ICTs.
The following disruptions are related to the “How we implement this major disruption”:
Disruption 1. Design ICT for people and welfare not just for goods and profit
Most recent development of ICT expected to impact on the agricultural sector target the production of goods per se. They are not designed for different type of users but for one type of usage and function (producing more, and eventually for less). Implications on people’s life is at best indirect (by reducing production cost, or improving access to market information, one expects that the lives of small farmers will significantly improve), and the chain of causality between the use of ICT and the final transformation of the lives of people is very loose if not inexistent. This just requires every inventor to ask him(her)self what their innovation will change in the life of those who may be using it. And of course it is easier done if the users are there when this reflection takes place.
Disruption 2. Put clearly sustainability and resilience before productivity in the design of ICT for Asian farmers.
Asian farmers produce more than one crop. Most of Asian farmers do much more than farming. ICTs are needed to improve the livelihood of Asian farms and rural inhabitants, and not just their productivity. For example how good would it be to disseminate thousands of sensors at field level, registering soil and climate conditions, if they are linked to a decision support model offering just one conventional model of pesticide application? This just requires every inventor to ask him(her)self how their innovation will improve resilience and sustainability where it will be used. And of course it is easier done if the users are there when this reflection takes place.
Disruption 3. Give more information than you take.
ICTs are media providing a two-way flow of information and communication (in and out), not to extract information from farmers and communicate recommendations to farmers. For example how good would it be to disseminate thousands of sensors at field level, registering soil and climate conditions, if they are linked to a decision support model offering just one conventional model of pesticide application? This just requires every inventor to ask him(her)self what their innovation give in exchange of the data it will extract. And of course it is easier done if the users are there when this reflection takes place.