Connecting with Agricultural Sector
Electronic governance models have to be carefully designed and implemented to ensure they benefit the entire community, and especially those who are in most need of governance services. This calls for choosing those models of electronic governance which "Enhance the Public Value of Information" being supplied.
[For a complete description of "Public Value of Information" see the previous note: Increasing "Public Value" of Information through Electronic Governance Models available at: http://126.96.36.199/artman/publish/publicvalue.shtml].
Connecting Agricultural Sector through Electronic Governance Models
Agriculture and Electronic Governance
Electronic Governance, in simplest terms, refers to those governance processes in which Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are playing an active role in delivering governance related products and services.
When applied to the Agricultural Sector, electronic governance refers to the use of ICTs in delivering governance products and services which are of use to farmers or those working in the agrarian sector, including livestock breeders and herders, milk dairy workers, agriculture extensionists, agricultural traders, and NGOs working in the agriculture sector.
Governance Products and Services in the Agriculture Sector
There are a range of governance products and services that are useful for the agrarian community to fulfil common needs of all developing countries: enhancing crop productivity, efficient cattle farm management, providing for national and household level food security, and conservation of bio-diversity.
These governance products and services include: information about the latest seed varieties, fertilizers, pesticides and rainfall prediction; information on various government schemes such as those on water resources management and subsidies on land development and soil conservation activities; information about local agriculture offices and officers, crop testing and training centres; information on milk processing, grain storage, livestock vaccination and crop diseases; information about market prices of various crops, government procurement prices, rates for loans, and available credit facilities. Apart from these, farmers need to modify legal documents pertaining to their land/ cattle ownership while purchasing or selling land/cattle. They need to access application forms to apply for government schemes, loans and subsidies, and may need to file applications for getting electricity on their farms, digging new wells, diverting canal water for irrigation, and getting reimbursements for livestock eaten by wild animals.
In summary, there are numerous governance products and services, which are of importance for the welfare of the agrarian community and should be made available to them. This is of even more significance for developing countries where good annual agricultural production is essential not only to ensure food security but also to guarantee livelihoods to large number of households (and a large proportion of population) who work in the agricultural sector. A large number of such households comprise of small farmers or livestock owners who do not have the safety net of an alternate livelihood opportunity or source of income.
For instance, in most of Sub-Saharan Africa, over 96 percent of farmers are small, farming less than 5 hectares of land. For such households, the safety net lies in good governance to ensure that required agricultural products and services get delivered to them in a timely and efficient manner. Consequently, national and state governments, NGOs and donor agencies should give high priority to ensure good governance within the agricultural sector.
The Role of Electronic Governance in the Agricultural Sector
ICTs can be applied in the agricultural sector to provide many of the products and services listed in the previous section. And there are several projects: some funded by national governments and donor agencies, and others run by private sector or entrepreneurs which demonstrate the useful role of ICTs in the agricultural sector.
However for these projects to be meaningful beyond their immediate objectives (for instance providing a specific product or service), ICTs should be used to bring qualitative changes in the governance sphere which surrounds the agrarian community. In essence, a clearrole for electronic governance emerges for the agricultural sector and these electronic governance models should be aimed at bringing 4 key changes:
This could include improving existing agricultural extension services through use of IT tools, opening new communication channels by which information about market prices and government procurement prices can reach farmers, or providing updated information about local agriculture offices and the services provided by them.
This could include providing opportunities to farmers to access and modify their land records data accurately, providing credit cards to farmers to be used for purchasing of seeds, fertilizers and farm equipments, or installing community based equipment which could update the farmers about rainfall prediction, about prevalent crop diseases, or movements of wild animals in the area.
This could include building capacities of farmers to decide how agriculture related government funds should be spent in their village, for instance on repairing the lining of canals or restoring of rain harvesting structures. They should be able to influence government decisions on the appropriate location of dam construction, deciding who should qualify for farm subsidies, and the kind of courses offered by the local agriculture training centres.
TWO Lessons Emerging from Application of Electronic Governance Models In Agricultural Sector
Effective electronic governance models in the agricultural sector are those, which are based on the farmer-centric approach. The approach should be on identifying the different needs of the agrarian community, specifically, which governance-related products and services are most useful for them, and are currently underprovided.
Electronic governance applications which focus on providing such governance products and services would be popular, effective, and may even generate returns over the investment. On the contrary, electronic governance applications which are not farmer-centric, may be costlier and fail to justify the investment made on them. For instance, creating a simple electronic governance application which updates the farmer about latest seed varieties and how to tackle crop diseases may be more beneficial than making annual reports of agriculture ministries online on their websites (and which is often the case when one browses the website of any of the government agricultural departments).
In short, electronic governance models have to be designed to provide governance information which is of "value" for the agrarian community, instead of providing information that can be readily supplied by the agriculture ministries and offices.
Electronic Governance models should try to increase the public value of information being provided. This means that they should not try to target the same sections of the society, or focus on providing the same information through different channels.
Instead the success of electronic governance, as with agricultural crops, lies in promoting diversity of electronic governance models and applications rather than on uniformity. This is because even within the agrarian community the needs of end-users may be very different. A small farmer, who practices sustenance agriculture, may find it more useful to get information on government subsidies, on land improvement, rather than on receiving updated market price of crops. Similarly a livestock breeder would find electronic governance application which allows him to explore new marketing opportunities more useful than being able to access copies of land records online.
Diverse electronic governance models bring more number of people into governance sphere and thereby increase the "public value" of information being supplied to the agrarian community.
This article is also available at: http://188.8.131.52/artman/publish/agriculture.shtml