Advanced Technologies for the Future

Finally, new scientific “platforms” for innovation have recently been developed, derived from fundamental discoveries in the physical, chemical, and biological sciences. These have the potential to be developed simultaneously for the needs of the industrialized and the developing world, and in the right circumstances can be appropriate for the needs of developing country farmers. The new platform technologies, discussed below, include the following:

  • • Information and communication technology
  • • Nanotechnology
  • • Biotechnology

While these platforms have their origins in advanced research laboratories, developing country scientists and especially those in the emerging countries are rapidly exploiting their properties in a wide range of appropriate applications.23

Information and Communication Technology

Traditionally, information and communication technology (ICT) in developing countries has been based on indigenous forms of storytelling, song, and theater, the print media, and radio. Such technology has often been used instrumentally in extension programs to inform farmers about new varieties or other technologies. Radio soap operas about rural life based on the BBC’s long-running The Archers are popular in Rwanda (Urunana [Hand in Hand]) and Afghanistan (Naway Kor, Naway Jwand [New Home, New Life].24 The latter is so popular, with 35 million listeners (over 70 percent of the population), it was thought to have been partly responsible for the reluctance of the Taliban to ban radio, despite their bans on television, music, and dancing. The thrice-weekly aired soap is set in the village of Bar Killi and tackles the dramas of blood feuds, forced marriages, landmines, and opium addiction as well as gender and humanitarian issues.25

Most modern ICT, however, is based on electronic communications and the Internet. The widespread use of mobile phones has been the most dramatic outcome of the ICT revolution. It is a good example of an imported technology that has been widely and successfully adopted in developing countries. Mobile phone use has exploded in recent years, across Asia and Latin America, and especially in Africa. In 1995, there were 650,000 mobile phone subscribers in Africa; by 2008 there were 350 million subscribers.26 Although not specifically designed for, or with the involvement of, poor people, they have rapidly seized on the potential of mobile phones. Interestingly, in many cases, the primary advantage to poor people is unrelated to the key purpose for which it was designed; namely, mobility.

New users are employing mobile phones in an extraordinary variety of situations. Mobiles are being made available to virtually everyone, including those who are poor, remote, and/ or illiterate. They can be shared between individuals and households

Box 7.5 Mobile Phones for Farming27

Expanding mobile phone use has begun to remove many long-standing obstacles for farmers in developing countries. Mobiles can be used to find out the location and prices of inputs, such as seeds and fertilizers, and of crops being purchased by market dealers (see Chapter 8). As a consequence, farmers have been able to get much better prices for their products, in some cases in anticipation of the harvest.28

Mobiles are also ideal sources of technical agricultural information. New services such as AppLab, run by the Grameen Foundation in partnership with Google and the provider MTN Uganda, are allowing farmers to get tailored, speedy answers to their questions. The initiative includes platforms such as Farmer’s Friend, a searchable database of agricultural information; Google SMS, a question-and-answer texting service; and Google Trader, a SMS-based “marketplace” application that helps buyers and sellers find each other.29

and made public at booths as a relatively cheap pay-service. Their use has not only improved communication and the flow of information in developing countries, but has spurred a variety of novel ways of pursuing agricultural objectives (Box 7.5).

Alongside mobile phones, the Internet is a powerful communication tool for connecting people and groups and for accessing up-to-date information from around the world. In the town of Veerampattinam in the south of India, the M.S. Swami- nathan Research Foundation has put up loudspeakers to broadcast information derived from the Internet, such as weather and ocean-wave forecasts, agricultural and fishing techniques, market prices, government programs, and local bus schedules. This allows citizens to access accurate information without even touching a computer or phone.30

Internet access in the developing countries is growing fast—with usage increasing between 2000 and 2010 by over 2,300 percent in Africa, over 1,000 percent in Latin America, and over 600 percent in Asia—and the use of computers for education, communication, and information processing is steadily expanding.31 This will be further helped by improvements in infrastructure, such as the new 17,000-km-long underwater fiber-optic cable installed by the African-owned company Seacom along the eastern coast of Africa. The cable, which went live in July 2009, creates a much- needed digital link between Eastern Africa, South Asia, and Europe, and will bring higher-speed, lower-cost broadband to millions of users.32 The key challenge now is to improve ICT access by the rural poor.

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