12 November 2007

Pathways out of Poverty - WorldAgInfo Zambia workshop kicks off

Livingstone, Zambia, 12 November: The second workshop of the WorldAginfo Project (www.worldaginfo.org) began today with introductions to ‘new agriculture’ and initial discussions around the various project ideas developed in the earlier workshop at Cornell.

Drawing on the new World Development Report, John Staatz of Michigan State University started with an Africa-oriented analysis of potential ‘pathways out of poverty in the new agriculture.’ According to Staatz: “Done right, agriculture can play a very important role in reducing poverty” – by addressing the needs of the 75% of the world’s poor people who live in rural areas.

He highlighted two sets of actions (pathways out of poverty): those leading to broad-based productivity increases; and productivity increases arising from the integration of farmers into broader economic systems and into broader (world) knowledge and information systems.

He emphasized that the pathways need to address the great diversity of smallholders. He distinguished between different categories of smallholders: those that are already commercial, those that are potentially commercial, and subsistence types who need to move out of farming to something else.

For the very smallest (those with less than two hectares) “it’s difficult to see how these smallholders will be able to farm their way out of poverty.” According to Staatz, they will need information on risk-reducing technologies, information on non-farm opportunities, and ‘education to escape.’

With these challenges in mind, participants in the ‘WorldAginfo’ workshop are meeting in Zambia to devise concrete projects that can help give voice and access to smallholder farmers and their support networks by designing community based agricultural education and information systems.

The World Agricultural Information Systems Project has been tasked by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to identify priority information needs of smallholders; explore the potential applications of new technologies to give access to up to date and relevant information to smallholders; and understand the context in which they operate. The Zambia workshop follows an earlier workshop at Cornell and site visits to India, Mali, Sri Lanka, and Zambia.

Participants are working in small groups to flesh out viable projects in a number of areas:

1. A ‘collaborative online massive agricultural information system to disperse information to different stakeholders.’

2. Market information systems

3. Access to scientific literature

4. Rebuilding agricultural universities for the 21st century

5. Radio as a tool for agricultural education

6. Beyond text based systems for information dissemination and exchange

7. Harvesting the potential of cell phones

8. Mobilising community knowledge workers

contributed by Peter Ballantyne


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