15 May 2010

USDA/NIFA/eXtension webinar on ICTs for Development

On Thursday, May 13, USDA/NIFA and eXtension collaboratively hosted a webinar on “Information and Communications Technologies for International Development”. The purpose was to share U.S. Land-Grant (LGU) institution experiences in using ICTs to serve the needs of smallholder farmers in developing countries. This session included a variety of presentations:

(1) Deanna Behring, Director of International Programs at Penn State, outlined the importance of global engagement and suggested LGUs have particular advantages for maintaining long-term sustainable programs.

(2) Mike McGirr, National Program Leader for NIFA’s international programs office, provided an overview of their activities and said that they were working to “catch the ICT wave”. Several examples of ICT use around the world were mentioned: (a) LifeLines (www.lifelines-india.net); (b) AppLab (www.grameenfoundation.applab.org); (c) Zambia National Farmers Union (www.znfu.org/zm) ; and (d) I4D Magazine (www.e-agriculture.org).

(3) Charles Steinfield, Michigan State University, Director of Telecommunication, Information Studies & Media, presented several MSU projects including the inaugural “ICT Global Corps” program that involves students in a service learning experience to bring the benefits of modern communication technology to people in developing countries (http://cas.msu.edu/modules.php?name=Pages&sp_id=1507).

(4) UC Davis was represented by Nick Madden and Mark Bell who spoke about the “Global Horticulture Knowledge Bank” project which seeks to serve rural intermediaries serving farmers with a simple web interface to quality tools pulled from other sources, such as the Arizona Master Gardner Manual tool for diagnosing diseases available in their Hort Hospital section (http://ip.ucdavis.edu/Knowledge-Bank).

(5) Mary Holz-Clause, Iowa State University, said that ISU is only recently putting an emphasis on developing ICT in Agriculture programs. They have now instituted a “Global Academy for Extension Practice” program that focuses on youth, women, and extension workers.

(6) Royal Colle, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University described his projects in working with universities in India and Vietnam to set up and maintain rural Telecenters.

(7) Barry Pittendrigh, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, discussed an approach UIUC is taking to build web resources based on capturing field knowledge of Peace Corps workers and others that is translated into different formats and languages to provide information to low-literate learners. The first phase of the system will be available in 2-3 months.

(8) Dan Cotton, representing eXtension, outlined the capabilities of eXtension and suggested it could be used as a resource and a potential Global Community of Practice in the area of ICTs (www.extension.org).

(9) Anne Tutwiler, USDA's coordinator for the Global Food Security Initiative Coordinator, spoke about the Obama Administration’s new focus on agriculture as the primary route out of poverty for smallholder farmers. She described a country-led approach involving multiple government agencies and the private sector. Twenty countries have been designated as the targets for the program. Additionally there is a focus on aggregation (bringing small farmers together to improve production to marketing strategies) and information systems/new delivery options ( including market prices, nutrition, value-chain management ( www.state.gov/s/globalfoodsecurity/).

The entire webinar will be available for viewing at: http://connect.extension.iastate.edu/p20396494.

Next Steps discussed include: continue discussions, conduct additional webinars, APLU/ICOP to include on agenda for next meeting.

Story by Barbara Hutchinson

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