ICT, Networking and Knowledge Systems in Agricultural and Rural Development

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ICT, Networking and Knowledge Systems in Agricultural and Rural Development

Fernando Chaparro NARS Secretariat of GFAR

Paper presented in the Second Conference of the European Federation for Information Technology in Agriculture, Food and the Environment (EFITA). Bonn, September 27-30, 1999

c/o FAO/SDR, Via delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 – ROME, ITALY Tel.: 39-06-5705-3413; Fax: 39-06-5705-3898; E-mail: [email protected]

ICT, Networking and Knowledge Systems in Agricultural and Rural Development


Table of Contents


THE DEVELOPMENT CHALLENGE...................................................................................................1


INFORMATION, KNOWLEDGE AND DEVELOPMENT ................................................................2




MAJOR APPLICATIONS OF ICT TO AGRICULTURAL AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT ..........5 4.1 SECTORS OF APPLICATION OF ICT IN AGRICULTURAL AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT ..............................6 4.1.1 Impact of ICT on Research and Extension .................................................................................6 4.1.2 Impact of ICT on Rural Development and Community Action...................................................7 4.2 NATURE OF THE SERVICE OFFERED BY THE ICT APPLICATION .......................................................8 4.2.1 Agricultural Information Systems ............................................................................................9 4.2.2 Networking: Changing Patterns of Research Organization................................................10 4.2.3 An Interesting Case of Networking: PanelaNet ..................................................................14


COPING WITH THE CHALLENGES: A NEW PARADIGM FOR AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH FOR DEVELOPMENT......................................................................................................16


KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS FOR AGRICULTURAL AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT: A VISION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY ...............................................................................................20

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The Development Challenge

As we near the threshold of the 21st century the world is faced with an increasingly complex challenge of feeding its growing population, while assuring an equitable and sustainable development. Scientific and technological progress is generating the knowledge and the tools to make this possible. Nevertheless, the environmental and socio-economic deterioration that is being confronted in many parts of the world poses an unprecedented challenge of mobilizing and applying the potential capacity scientific progress has generated, to the solution of these problems and to generate a sustainable and equitable development process. The capacity to respond successfully to this situation will have an impact on the well being of all societies, making it a global issue. And the rapid process of deterioration, with its long-term and pervasive impacts, gives it a sense of urgency that requires an effective and collective response. Despite the very important technological advances of this century, including those of the Green Revolution, the world is still faced with increasing poverty, both urban and rural poverty. The figures are staggering: • • • •

More that 800 million remain undernourished. One third of the pre-school children are in this situation, with the impact this has on school performance and future productivity. In some countries more than 65% of the population remain below the poverty line. By 2025 the world’s population will exceed 8 billion, which represents an increase of 2.5 billion in the next 20 years.

Recent studies carried out by IFPRI and other organizations have clearly analyzed various contrasting trends that are presently taking place, and that will predominate during the coming decades. On the one hand, the aggregate supply/demand picture for food as compared to population presents a relatively balanced picture, if present investment levels in agricultural research are maintained or increased. But despite this positive picture at the global level, the world will continue to face a dual and contradictory situation, based on two different realities. On the one hand, wealthy countries, together with a small number of developing countries (mainly from Asia), will enjoy low food prices and food surpluses, or affordable imports. On the other hand, poorer, slowly growing countries will face a growing problem of food security that will have to be solved through food imports. Food surplus will be generated in developed countries, specially the U.S., and a growing food deficit accompanied by growing food imports will predominate in developing countries. The proportion of the malnourished population, specially in the case of vulnerable populations, will continue to increase. If instead of maintaining present rates of investment in agricultural research, national and international institutions further cut back their investments, the relatively favorable aggregate food situation could worsen, generating a global food security situation and worsening environmental problems and sustainability. Desertification, deforestation and environmental deterioration represent a rapidly growing problem, even in countries that are well-endowed in natural resources. With the population likely to increase by another 2.5 billion by the year 2020, and the problems of increasing natural resource degradation, agricultural research is faced with a major challenge. This demanding task is to improve farm family income to alleviate poverty, increase food

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production, provide employment opportunities for the resource poor and landless farmers to ensure household food security, while conserving the natural resources in a sustainable fashion.


Information, Knowledge and Development

The Green Revolution in Asia and elsewhere demonstrated dramatically how science and technology can contribute to the solution of food security and to the world’s capacity to respond to the growing population. The increments in yields in wheat, maiz and rice made a very significant contribution to assuring basic food supply despite the population explosion. This scientific revolution was accompanied by the emergence of the international agricultural research system, the CGIAR, which played a central role in this process, and by the establishment of many of the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) that presently exist. A significant increase in the investment in agricultural research took place at both the global and national levels. The Green Revolution led to a virtual transformation of the rural economy, generating growth in productivity, in food availability and in income of farmers of all size categories. But this took place three decades ago, and we are now facing new challenges and new opportunities. In order to respond successfully to the challenges mentioned in the previous section, we are confronted with the need to revitalize agricultural research for development (ARD). But in order to do so, it will be necessary to develop a new research paradigm that may build upon the emerging opportunities in the new environment, as well as the comparative advantages of each the main stakeholders of agricultural research. The more recent scientific revolution that is taking place at the turn of the century, based on the emergence of the new areas of science, namely in molecular biology (biotechnology), in agroecology and sustainable agricultural production, and in information and communication technology, is leading to the growing importance of knowledge in present day agriculture and natural resource management. Knowledge has become the most important factor of production, and it plays a critical role in our capacity to respond to the challenges of food security, poverty eradication and sustainable development analyzed in the previous section. The recent World Development Report of the World Bank concentrates on this topic: Knowledge for Development. The main thesis of the report is that, given the central role of knowledge in economic growth and sustainable development, it is important to understand how people and societies acquire and use knowledge, and why they sometimes fail to do so, as a key instrument for the improvement of livelihoods, specially in resource-scarce environments. In his now classical research on economic growth, Robert M. Solow tried to quantify the proportion of growth that cannot be explained by an increase in the traditional factors of production: capital, labor and land. The so-called residual factor, later analyzed as Total Factor Productivity, represented as much as 70% of economic growth. Three main factors determine this residual factor: education (human resources), institutions and knowledge. Knowledge includes technology, but also goes beyond it. It includes the capacity to generate knowledge, as well as the capacity to adapt it to local circumstances, to discuss and assimilate it among stakeholders (i.e. farmers), blending it with local knowledge and wisdom. The

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process of social appropriation of knowledge plays a role as important as the generation of this knowledge.1 Of these three factors, knowledge is the most pervasive and fundamental one. Through education one transfers knowledge as well as knowledge-related skills (the capacity to understand and to generate knowledge). The growing interest on institutions and their efficiency and effectiveness as a facilitating or limiting factor of development (institutional economics), has clearly emphasized the importance of developing learning organizations. The latter are based on an increased capacity for knowledge management that may empower people and organizations, as a key instrument for developing in them a capacity to adapt to changing environments and circumstances, and to respond successfully to the emerging opportunities and challenges that characterize the globalized world of this turn of century. Looking at recent experiences of developing countries, the capacity to generate and effectively use knowledge in development efforts is closely correlated with three basic factors. The first one is education and human resources development, which continues to be the main limiting factor in most developing countries. The second one is development and strengthening of a knowledge generation capacity through research (R&D capacity), specially in the case of agriculture and natural resource management where site-specific research is required to adapt technology to local circumstances. The third one relates to the development of an innovation capacity, that requires not only effective extension services, but also more end-user farmer involvement to assure a process of social appropriation of knowledge. This third factor can only be achieved through a people-oriented development effort, that places the farmer and the local community at the centre, and that is based on participatory approaches that involves the end-user from the conception of each project or activity. It is important to point out that in promoting innovation, which is the capacity to apply knowledge to the improvement of production or of a social service, the knowledge can come from anywhere. It can be transferred from abroad or it can be produced locally. But even in the first case, knowledge has to be adapted to local circumstances and appropriated by the enduser, before it can be effectively used.


Role of ICT in Promoting the Development of Knowledge Societies

Information and communication technologies have been with us for many years, and they have played an important role in promoting agricultural and rural development during the last several decades. The role of T.V. and radio in rural education and extension services has been well documented in many developing countries. These technologies will continue to play a critical role in the developing world, along with the new information and communication technologies. But what characterizes the new ICT revolution is the convergence of three previously differentiated technological sectors, whose convergence has generated a qualitative difference in the way we can generate, disseminate and transfer knowledge, and thus on its capacity to contribute to development. These technological sectors are:


For an analysis of the process of social appropriation of knowledge in the context of a developing country, see Fernando Chaparro: Conocimiento, Innovaciòn y Construcciòn de Sociedad; Bogotà, Tercer Mundo Editores, 1998. This book develops the concept of the social capital of knowledge.

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• • •

Telecommunications technology Informatics: computers and information processing technology Data and image transfer technology and interactive multimedia

The convergence of these three sectors has created not only a new technological and production sector, but also a new social and economic reality. The development of the inexpensive desktop computer complemented with high-speed telecommunication links is drastically changing the environment in which a person and a community live and interact. Improved information and communication technologies, increased information and management skills, and decreasing communication costs, are making instant connectivity and much quicker information flows among interested stakeholders possible. In the case of research, this opens up the possibility for the researcher to interact with a much wider community of peers that work in the same research area or topic, with whom he/she can interact in real time, creating a new virtual community of researchers that is different from the traditional network of contacts and of researchers (peers) working in a similar field. Some interesting examples of these virtual communities of research are starting to appear, even in developing countries, specially in the case of regional research networks that are evolving towards electronic networks, with the capacity for interaction among its members in real time. One of the main obstacles we are facing is that of a cultural change that has to take place among researchers. It is not immediately obvious to everyone that behind a computer with Internet access there are potential new ways of organizing his/her research efforts. The perception of what is possible, and the learning of how to develop and implement these new potentialities, requires a change of attitude, a change of mindset. It is not only a matter of limited access to Internet, which is a constraint that with time can change. Outside the research world, there is an equally important impact that can be generated in the wider community. A person with hardly any training, except basic literacy and keyboard skills, can retrieve and manipulate data from various sources, easily and cheaply. And the person can interact with extensionists, with community leaders or with co-workers in other places that are facing similar problems. This is opening up the possibility of dynamic and proactive interaction and knowledge flows among stakeholders, community leaders and “practitioners” of development, with the capacity to empower them through learning processes based on these knowledge flows and on the exchange of information on what works and what doesn’t, and on how best to do things. Obviously for the above to happen the person has to have access to a computer and to Internet, and this facility is quite often absent, or is very limited, in the rural areas of the developing world where the target population we want to reach is located. This limitation can be partly solved through the utilization of ICT technologies and Internet applications that can be used even when the World Wide Web is not accessible. There is an increasing number of applications that do not require on-line access to be operational and effective (i.e. CD-ROM technology and other portable technologies that are presently available). Moreover, the access to Internet is starting to increase, even in remote areas of developing countries. This leads to very basic questions with respect to the implications of the new technologies. If it were possible to solve the problem of access to computer facilities and to the Internet, would the new information and communication technologies have the capacity to significantly empower people and facilitate development? Does the new technology have the capacity to facilitate leapfrogging for developing countries? Are we in front of a major technological revolution that can significantly influence the development capacity of any society? Can this Knowledge Society develop the tools to harness science for development,

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and to facilitate not only knowledge dissemination and technology transfer (extension services), but also knowledge generation through learning networks? Under what conditions can ICTs become more effective development tools? Or will the new technologies, on the contrary, lead to increasing differences and inequalities between the haves and the have-nots in terms of their capacity to access and use knowledge? What are the development implications of the various ICT-applications that are being generated continuously in the very dynamic technological environment that characterizes this technological sector? Is the vision of a Knowledge Society that empowers people through knowledge a realistic one? Under what conditions and with what requirements? These questions are not easy to answer, given the fact that most of these technologies are fairly recent, and the fact that accessibility to them is still limited. In the next section we will present a quick overview of the multiplicity of fields in which ICT applications are being developed with potential impacts for agricultural and rural development.


Major Applications of ICT to Agricultural and Rural Development

Given the fact that ICTs are a generic technology, their applications to agriculture and to rural development are very extensive and pervasive. Agricultural information systems have attracted much attention because of the importance of facilitating access to information and to knowledge. The information systems themselves are in a process of profound transformation with the spectacular development of the Internet, and the possibility of evolving towards webbased information systems, even in developing countries. But beyond databases and information systems, the applications of ICT to agricultural and rural development are appearing everywhere. They are profoundly transforming extension services through the use of multimedia technology and through the use of long distance education technology, as well as through the possibility of developing innovative approaches based on interactive knowledge development processes that involve researchers, extensionists and farmers. They are having a clear impact on our capacity to monitor the environmental impact of agriculture and the degradation of natural resources through remote sensor data (soil erosion, deforestation, monitoring of fish stocks). A specific case of the latter is that of the set of technologies related to precision agriculture, with the impact this may have on both comparative advantages (production costs) and on the sustainability of agricultural production (facilitating the development of a “cleaner agriculture”). Geographical Information Systems are opening new approaches to regional planning and to the management of natural resources. Instant connectivity and electronic networks have the potential for changing the way we do research, with profound impacts on the organization of research (at both the national and international levels) and on the need to re-think the interaction between research, education and extension. Since this is potentially a very extensive field, ICT applications to agricultural and rural development can be analyzed from three different perspectives or points of view: a) b) c)

The agricultural and/or rural development activity they influence. The nature of the service provided by the ICT. The technological and operational components that constitute a given ICT application, and the requirements this generates in terms of human resources (training), infrastructural requirements, and others.

In this paper we will concentrate on the first two dimensions. By interrelating and crossing these two dimensions an analytical matrix will be developed that helps to identify the

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most relevant ICT applications, and the functions they play in development. This matrix is presented in Figure 1 below.


Sectors of Application of ICT in Agricultural and Rural Development

ICT applications can be analyzed in terms of the agricultural and/or rural activity they influence. There are five main areas of impact of the new technologies: a) b) c) d) e)

Research and extension activities Production and processing (primary and secondary) Marketing and trade (commerce) Natural resources management and monitoring Rural development and community action

Since the purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of ICT applications and their impact on development, not a detailed review of each one, we will not analyze each ICT application in depth. Although the analytical matrix that is presented in Figure No. 1 covers all five areas, in this section we will pay special attention to the first and the fifth areas of the above list, since they are of particular importance to the field of agricultural research for development (ARD). In the next section (3.2) we will make a quick reference to some of the ICT applications that are emerging in all of them, in discussing the analytical matrix that interrelates services offered by ICTs and areas of application of those services. 4.1.1

Impact of ICT on Research and Extension

The impact of ICT in agricultural research is quite significant. This is taking place through three means. The first one has to do with the changing nature of agricultural information systems, which is having a profound impact on how research results are communicated and disseminated. With the development of web-based information systems the possibility of accessing databases and information on-line has increased dramatically, with the concomitant problems that is generating from the point of view of the confidentiality of the information and of the economics of information management (economic value of information). The rapid expansion of web publishing is dramatically changing the way people access information, and is leading to the development of metadatabases, based on virtual libraries that provide direct access to the publication, wherever it is located, as long as the publication is accessible through the web. We will come back to this issue in the next section, at looking at the services being provided by ICT applications. Secondly, the very significant advances that are being made in software applications related to agricultural research techniques, coupled with advances in other areas of science, such as molecular biology, is accelerating the research process enormously and making it much more efficient. This is one of the areas in which NARS can seriously fall behind, compared to IARCs, to ARIs and obviously to the private sector. Access to research software is one of the important dimensions through which the ICT technology gap can be avoided or reduced. But the most important impact on research is being generated by a third factor. The presence of new actors in agricultural research (such as the private sector, NGOs and universities), the changing composition of the scientific fields related to agricultural research (increasing importance of molecular biology and ICT as compared with agronomy and veterinary), the changing nature of networking, the possibility of working jointly with researchers in different institutional locations by interacting with them in real time, the possibility of developing virtual communities of scholars working on the same topic but dispersed in space, and the increasing importance of knowledge systems and learning systems

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that are based on interactive knowledge development processes, and thus on a different concept on how knowledge is generated and managed in this new environment, is leading to profound changes in the research world. The social organization of science is changing, given changes that are appearing in the organizational structure of research (how research is organized), as well as changes in the relationship between research, education and extension. The traditional linear relationship among these three functions is being replaced by dynamic interactive processes, based on knowledge systems that combine these three key functions in different and innovative ways. Given the importance of this change, it will be analyzed in a separate section (see section 5), where it will be argued that we are confronting the emergence of a new paradigm for agricultural research for development. 4.1.2

Impact of ICT on Rural Development and Community Action

But ICT is not only transforming the world of research. It is also having a profound impact on how to take a new approach to rural development and community action. ICT applications and the Internet are opening new opportunities and developing new approaches to the need confronted by rural people and by grassroots agricultural organizations to establish vertical and horizontal channels of communication in order to increase their capacity to generate and use knowledge, and thus increase the effectiveness of their development efforts. This is done through a variety of means. One of them is to facilitate the access by farmers and other end-users to the information resources that exist in the Internet or in other locations. The second one is to empower these organizations by strengthening their capacity to enter in dialogue and exchange information among themselves, and with researchers and policymakers beyond rural communities, on how best to cope with their needs and improve the effectiveness of their action. The third one relates to the integration of modern scientific knowledge with traditional knowledge or local wisdom, through a two-way flow of information and knowledge that allows to capture live or uncodified knowledge at the grassroots integrating it into the existing pool of knowledge available to other users. Several pilot projects are being developed to address this issue, among which we should highlight the InterDev Project that is being developed by a group of NGOs and development-related organizations.2 In this area of communication (ICT) and rural development there is an increasing body of experience being generated by a range of interesting projects that are presently being carried out in Sub-Sahara Africa, in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Asia/Pacific, and in West Asia/North Africa. A recent FAO study analysis some of the lessons that have been learned from these experiences of integrating the Internet and other ICT applications in rural development programmes.3 The Communication and Development Approach used in these projects is similar to the participatory research methodologies that have been developed in agricultural research for development. The above mentioned study summarizes the role Internet plays in these rural development programmes in the following terms: “The Internet is a multipurpose tool that, in its essence, enables people to learn from one another and work together. The results of Internet projects are not


See GRET: INTERDEV: Linking Global Knowledge with Local Wisdom; Paris, GRET, March 1999.


See Don Richardson: The Internet and Rural and Agricultural Development: An Integrated Approach, Rome, FAO, 1997.

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technical, but human and social. The Internet is essentially a tool for enhancing human relationships. Projects need to be driven, not by technical concerns, but by human knowledge, communication and social relationship concerns. Thus, the intended results of an Internet project ought to relate directly to improvements in social relationships, improvements in knowledge sharing and knowledge access, and enhancement of communication among people and organizations. Such project results can happen through efforts to increase rural community resources and agricultural resources to achieve project outputs such as: locally developed learning tools, interactive and collaborative extension information networks among farmer organizations, rural “folk schools” and “farmer field schools”, market information networks, distance learning programmes, participatory research and action networks, interactive and collaborative “expert systems” and decisionsupport networks, indigenous knowledge networks, training tools, and others.”4 On the basis of a comparative analysis of over 10 projects in developing countries in different regions of the world, this study identifies the main elements that characterize the successful rural and agricultural Internet-based communication and information systems. The pilot projects that were reviewed show very interesting results in the communities in which they operate. Nevertheless, the effective development impact of these pilot projects on the longer term and in the broader rural populations where they are located, depends very much on three critical questions: (a) the sustainability and continuity of these projects in the longer term, that is a function of the degree of appropriation of the project by the local community and the stakeholders; (b) the degree of integration of these projects with the NARS of which they form part, in order to link local research with extension and technology transfer efforts; and (c) the capacity and strategic alliances that are required for scaling-up and extrapolating from successful but isolated cases, to processes of social change and innovation at the societal level. The challenge of scaling-up is the single most difficult problem that is encountered in these types of projects. In the next section we will mention some cases of networking organized by the stakeholders themselves, without external assistance, that may have a greater capacity for sustainability and scaling-up, than those that depend excessively on external aid and international cooperation.


Nature of the Service Offered by the ICT Application

The second perspective from which we can analyze ICT applications and their contribution to agricultural and rural development is that of the services that are provided by each ICT application. For developing countries, there are five key services, or functions, that are very closely related to ICT applications: a) b)



Access to information through different types of Agricultural Information Systems (AIS). A specific subset of these are the Management Information Systems (MIS). Monitoring the situation of natural resources and of environmental impact through different information-processing tools (i.e. analysis of environment deterioration, soil erosion, deforestation, etc.). Education and Communication Technologies that are playing a very important role in generating new approaches to learning and to knowledge management.

See Idem, pp. 20-21.

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Networking: ICTs can contribute greatly to relating people/institutions among them and facilitating the emergence of “Virtual Communities of Stakeholders” that generate and exchange information and knowledge among themselves. If well managed, networking is a first step in the direction of developing interactive knowledge development processes that may lead to learning networks. Decision-support Systems (DSS): Tools and practices through which data and information provide relevant knowledge inputs for informed decision-making. These tools are playing an important role in converting information systems into knowledge systems.

The main objective of these various ICT applications, from a development perspective, is that of Empowering People through Knowledge. By this we mean developing in people a capacity to achieve their development objectives and goals, through the generation, acquisition and use of knowledge. Another way of expressing it is that of developing in people and in communities a learning and innovation capacity, that increases the effectiveness of their efforts to solve problems and to improve their lives. This is one of the main characteristics of a Knowledge Society, which is one in which knowledge so much permeates its social fibber that it empowers people and communities, increasing the effectiveness of their development efforts through informed decision-making, and through their capacity to harness science and various forms of knowledge to achieve the objectives of poverty eradication, food security and sustainable development.5 If we relate these six functions or services that ICT applications provide, to the sectors of application analyzed in the previous section, we obtain a matrix that helps to visualize the range that is covered by the various ICT applications to agricultural and rural development. This matrix is presented in Figure No. 1. We will not attempt an analysis of the different cases or applications that are described in the different cells of the matrix, since this would go far beyond the scope of this paper. But some comments will be made on two of the functions that constitute the rows of the matrix: Agricultural Information Systems (access to information) and Networking. 4.2.1

Agricultural Information Systems

Access to information through Agricultural Information Systems (AIS) of different types is the most widely spread service based on ICT applications. These information systems can cover both scientific and technological information (generated by research), as well as socio-economic data, market information and environment management information. There are different types of information systems, that, in terms of their scope, basically fall into one of three categories: (1) local, corporate (institutional) and/or community–level information systems or services; (2) National/Regional Agricultural Information Systems (NAIS/RAIS); and (3) international databases and/or global networks with information facilities. With the rapid expansion of the Internet and of web publishing, any of the above can become web-based information systems that provide on-line access to the specific document that is requested, if the document is available on the web. The web-based information systems are leading to the concept of virtual meta-databases that function as a gateway to the information resources that are located in a given region.


There is an increasing literature on this topic. See for example Robin Mansell and Uta When (eds.): Knowledge Societies: Information Technology for Sustainable Development; Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998.

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The purpose of Agricultural Information Systems (AIS) is that of facilitating central access to information that is localized in decentralized databases. The AIS is thus constituted by a system of interrelated databases and information services, that seek to respond to the information needs of the various types of end-users. WAICENT of FAO is one of the main agricultural global information systems through which one can access different databases, both of a documentary and a statistical (or data) nature. WAICENT has been playing a key role in developing a normative framework aimed at facilitating the flow of agricultural information among stakeholders and interested parties. At the global level, the importance of the databases and the information resources of the CGIAR should be clearly highlighted, since they constitute one of the most important reservoirs of knowledge on agricultural and rural development. CABI is playing an important role in facilitating the access to agricultural information through the marketing of it. The Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) is developing an initiative aimed at strengthening the second category mentioned above: that of the National and Regional Agricultural Information Systems (NAIS/RAIS), given the key role they play in facilitating the interaction with the end-user. They are closer to local development needs than the global information facilities. A second important objective of GFAR is that of strengthening the interaction between the three levels mentioned above, in order to effectively operationalize the concept of decentralized databases located near the end-users. Among the Regional Agricultural Information Systems (RAIS), EIARD InfoSys is playing a pioneering role in organizing and structuring a Regional Information Space, by pooling the European information resources on agricultural research for development (ARD), through the concept of a decentralized meta-database that allows centralized on-line access to those resources through the web. It should be pointed out that both WAICENT and InfoSys have evolved into webbased information systems. Similar regional information systems are being established in the various regions of the developing world, in Sub-Sahara Africa, in West Asia/North Africa, in Asia/Pacific and in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Sub-Sahara Africa this process is being co-sponsored with CTA. If the National and Regional Information Systems are not strengthened, it will be very difficult for isolated or remote end-users to have access to the global information facilities that international centres and international organizations have established. The latter would end-up being used by the more advanced researchers, and by some policy-makers, but with very little effective impact at the grassroots level. The capacity to access and use these information resources, even through the Internet, is clearly increased through the strengthening of this intermediate level. 4.2.2

Networking: Changing Patterns of Research Organization

The second major service facilitated by ICT that will be analyzed is that of networking. Networks are not new. They have been with us for quite some time. Since agricultural research is increasingly a global undertaking, that builds upon research efforts that are carried out in different institutional locations (IARCs, NARS, ARIs, Universities, private firms), networks have played a very important role in bringing these efforts together and in facilitating joint research efforts. A network can be visualized as an association of individuals or institutions with a shared purpose or goal, that participate in two-way exchanges of information and, in many cases, in collective efforts to achieve the shared objectives. But networks vary immensely in terms of type of participants, nature of the activity that brings them together, degree of structuring of the network, degree of openness, and degree of institutionalization, among other characteristics.

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Figure No. 1 - ICT Applications to Agricultural and Rural Development Sectors of Application:

Research & Extension

Production & Processing

Marketing & Trade

• AIS: S&T Information • RAIS & Meta-Databases • Open Knowledge Market Places • Research Software • Development of GIS • Info on Biosafety Regulations

• AIS: Available technologies • Techno-Economic Info • Farm Management Software • Precision Agriculture • Info on Sustainable Agric. Technol. available • Assessment Expansion Agricultural Frontier • Distance Learning Progrs. for extension • Rural TV & Radio • Interactive Multimedia & Extension (VERCON) • Innovation Networks • SME Development Networks

• AIS: Market Info • Market Information & Marketing Boards

• DSS for production

Natural Resource Management

Rural Development & Community Action

Service Provided: Access to Information and Access to Internet *

Monitoring Nat. Resources & Environment / Remote Sensors

Educational & Communication Technology

• Farmer Field Schools • Training Tools • Continuing Education


• Research Networks • Electronic Res. Networks • Virtual Communities of Researchers & Extension. • Setting the Agenda: DSS for R&D priorities and other research decisions

Decision-support Systems (DSS)

General Objective:



AIS: Agricultural Information Systems.

• AIS: NRM topics • Sustainable Agriculture Indicators & Monitor. • Integrating Local Wisdom (InterDev) • GIS & NRM • Precision Agriculture • Early Warning System

• Info on Best Practice • Internet Community Centres (telecentres) • Integrating Local Wisdom (InterDev) • GIS & Population • GIS & Poverty

• Info on IPRs and on how to negotiate them • E-mail commerce and impact on trade

• Distance Learning Progrs. on Environ. • Rural TV & Radio

• Distribution Networks • Market Info Networks

• NRM Networks

• Market intelligence

• DSS for NRM

• Integrated Rural Communication • Rural TV & Radio • Rural Information Centres • Rural Development Networks • Particip. Res. Networks • Leadership Develop. • DSS for Community Leaders • DSS in Development Agencies

• Information on Trade Flows • Info on Environment Regulation & Trade


RAIS: Regional Agricultural Information Systems.

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Almost ten years ago, Donald Plucknett, Nigel Smith and Selcuk Ozgediz made a very thorough review of the experience of international agricultural research networks in the seventies and eighties6 In this book the authors developed a conceptual framework for studying network effectiveness, and they proposed a typology of networks, in which they identified four types of research networks: (a) Information Exchange Networks, (b) Material Exchange Networks, (c) Scientific Consultation Networks, and (d) Collaborative Research Networks. They also looked at the evolution of networks and at their factors of success. Ten years later we confront a very different environment. The institutional structure has continued to diversify with stronger partners among the NARS and with new actors playing an increasingly important role, as it is the case with the private sector. The science-base for agricultural research has broaden, with the spectacular development of molecular biology and other areas of science, making it necessary to re-think the organization of research efforts. The ICT revolution is changing the context in which networks operate since immediate connectivity is now feasible. Furthermore, for effective development-impact one needs to develop closer links between the researcher, the extensionist and the farmer, leading to the need to develop innovative networks or knowledge systems based on interactive learning and knowledge development processes that take place through the interaction among these various actors. This last consideration has led to a very important change in the approach to networking. This process is no longer limited to Research Networks, that basically link researchers that work in a given field. Although research networks will continue to play a very important role, they are increasingly being complemented by development-oriented networks that bring together researchers, extensionists, farmers and other development agents. These “mixed networks”, that cut across R&D, production and rural development are the most dynamic and innovative ones. These mixed networks, when they develop a capacity for interactive knowledge development among their members, are at the basis of what the World Bank and FAO call "Agricultural and Rural Knowledge and Information Systems (ARKIS)”. Such systems or networks can play a key role in increasing the effectiveness of agricultural R&D by strengthening its development impact, which is one of the main challenges that NARS confront in many countries, in order to argue convincingly for an increased public investment in agricultural research in a context of rapidly diminishing national budgets. The emerging experiences with these new types of communities of researchers and of practitioners is different from the traditional networks that have existed for a long time. The fact that their members are able to interact with each other in real time, while at the same time they do so with a capacity to process a significant amount of information and with improved knowledge management skills, is leading to important differences with the traditional networks that we are acquainted with. Five important differences should be highlighted: a) In the first place, the velocity of the circulation and exchange of knowledge among its members has increased dramatically (specially in the case of electronic networks), not being necessary to wait for the periodic meetings of the traditional networks that take place every 6 or 12 months.


See Donald L. Plucknett, Nigel J. H. Smith and Selcuk Ozgediz: Networking in International Agricultural Research; Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1990

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b) Secondly, the amount of information and knowledge a network can take into consideration and process has increased exponentially, given their improved information management capacity through ICT applications and through improved knowledge management skills. c) Thirdly, the new advances in ICT are opening up the possibility of carrying out joint research efforts through cyberspace, given the possibility of interaction among researchers in real time, making it possible to pool the research capacities that are located in different research institutions. The experience of APAN (Asia/Pacific Advanced Networking) in actually jointly carrying out research through cyberspace, has shown very interesting results. The main limitation here is the high-speed connection that is required for this type of network to operate.7 But, in the near future, this type of infrastructural limitation could be overcome. d) Fourthly, the new technologies are making possible interactive knowledge development. This requires a two-way flow of communication in real time, a dialogue, that makes it possible not only to exchange knowledge, but also to create new knowledge from the interaction of different knowledge sources. The more innovative networks are moving in this direction. e) Finally, and this is a very important feature, these new technologies make it possible for a dynamic process to take place that can capture live or uncodified knowledge at the grassroots level (local wisdom), and integrate it into the existing knowledge base on a given topic, thus enriching it. This last characteristic is being utilized in some innovative projects that are aimed at seeking to integrate modern scientific knowledge with traditional knowledge, thus generating a cumulative and empowering process through the dialogue and exchange of knowledge among “practitioners” of development. This is the case of the InterDev Project that is being developed by a group of NGOs. Thus in the present context research and extension networks form part of an emerging range of research partnerships and collaborative research mechanisms, such as research consortia, joint research projects and licensing agreements. These new organizational forms do not replace the research centres and institutes; they complement them. They rather open the possibility of combining the resources the research institutions have in an agile and flexible way through joint (sometimes multidisciplinary) research programmes. These networks also provide the possibility of integrating a research centre with researchers that are working “upstream” in the universities in more basic research, or “downstream” with other researchers, extensionists, development practitioners and farmers in adaptive research, extension and rural innovation. These types of networks, some of which are mentioned in Figure No. 1, can become knowledge systems or innovation systems that are based on a different approach to the interaction between agricultural education, research, extension and innovation.8


See Seishi Ninomiya: Agricultural Research, Cooperation and Agroinformatics over APAN; paper presented in the “Consultation Meeting on Information Initiatives in Agricultural Research: Enhancing Global Cooperation”, Rome, FAO/GFAR/World Bank, March 2931, 1999.


It is important to point out that in the case of Sub-Sahara Africa a joint effort will be made by CTA and the Global Forum (NARS Secretariat) in the area of promoting networking. The ideas being developed in GFAR are presented in this paper. For the ideas that are orienting the activities of CTA see: Rutger J. Engelhard: Inter-Networking

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There are two pending questions with respect to the impact of ICT on these changing organizational patterns for research, extension and innovation. One is the degree to which, in the near future, the tightly-nit network with a highly structured research agenda can evolve towards a “virtual research centre” that may match the performance and the scientific productivity of a centre of excellence. This is still not yet the case, but the question is, will it be feasible, and under what circumstances. It is interesting to point out that the University of Princeton is presently carrying out a study aimed at the factors that influence, or limit, scientific productivity in cyberspace (electronic networks). The University of Sussex in the UK has a similar programme aimed at the changing nature and role of research networks, specially taking into consideration the impact of informatics. A second related question is whether the impact of these new types of networks will be more important “downstream”, rather than “upstream”. That is, the impact of networking may be much more important in knowledge dissemination, and in generating interactive learning processes through the interaction between education (training), research, extension and innovation at the farm or community level. Thus they may play an important role in the emergence of knowledge systems and innovation processes of this type, but not such an important role in basic research, given the fact that they cannot yet compete with centres of excellence. This would point in the direction of a complementarity between the two forms of research organization. These changes in the organizational structure of the scientific community and in the organization of research are not only taking place in agricultural research. Recent studies analyze very similar changes that are taking place in other scientific areas.9 In section 5 we will analyze some of the changes these trends are leading to. 4.2.3

An Interesting Case of Networking: PanelaNet10

There are several interesting cases of networking that are emerging from the efforts some NARS are doing in moving in the direction of the development-oriented networks that bring together researchers, extensionists, farmers (producers) and development agents. One particularly interesting case is that of PanelaNet, developed by CORPOICA in Colombia, in close collaboration with the producers of “panela”, a brown-sugar product that is produced from sugar-cane by very small producers (trapiches). This is a network that has emerged from

for National Agricultureal Systems in ACP Countries: Making the Internet Work; Wageningen, CTA, August 1999. 9

See for example the analysis in: Michael Gibbons, et al.: The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies; London, Sage Publications, 1994. On the emerging reality of the virtual research centre in the natural sciences see James P. Vary and Douglas R. Fils: The Virtual Laboratory: Electronic Support for Cooperative Scientific Research; Paris, UNESCO/IITAP, January 21, 1999. This paper goes into the analysis of economic, legal, organizational, social and psychological, and ethical considerations of this emerging form of research organization. In agricultural research we are lagging behind other areas of science.


The author would like to acknowledge the inputs he has received from the leaders of PanelaNet in CORPOICA and the other participating institutions (Hugo Garcia, Anyela Camargo, Francisco Salazar and the rest of the network members), through an ongoing dialogue aimed at systematizing this experience in terms of the lessons we can learn from it.

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the efforts the researchers were carrying out with the farmers, in getting them to use the research results and in further improving the technology that had been developed. The network now includes, among its members, researchers, extensionists, farmers, persons linked to the marketing of the product, and development agents that manage credit and other support facilities in panela production. The objectives of the network is to: a) Support the research projects being carried out on various aspects of “panela production”, seeking to develop synergies among them and to assure close interaction with the producers. b) Seek to integrate the various actors that intervene in this commodity chain, that go from research on the sugar cane varieties better apt for panela-production (it has particular requirements), down to the primary processing into panela in the trapiche, and into the marketing and distribution of the product that has technological problems of conservation and of other types. c) Develop a community of stakeholders in order to facilitate the exchange of information and experiences among them, basically via e-mail (although they have recently established a web page), since most members have to be reached by e-mail or even fax. In fact some of the producers out in the field that participate in the network have to be reached by word-ofmouth (no telecommunications available). But the core-group of the network has e-mail facilities, and some of them have access to the web. d) Consolidate all the relevant sources of information on panela in order to be able to analyze all the relevant aspects of interest to researchers and to producers and to facilitate their use by the end-users (the stakeholders). This refers to research reports, unpublished data from research projects, market information, production statistics, information on the relevant agricultural machinery, information on sanitary issues, etc. They are planning to experiment with new ways of disseminating this information (experiment with multimedia). e) An interesting information module they have developed is linked to capturing and systematizing “live information” (local wisdom) from the producers, that is being fed into the research team to improve the research process itself. f) There is an initially “unplanned” function that has started to emerge, and that is the fact that this process has lead to opening up the original projects, very much based in the research station, to participatory research approaches with the direct involvement of the farmers. This network started as a purely Colombian network, and has grown into a regional network with persons that participate in it in Brazil, Perù, Domenican Republic and other countries of the region where panela is an important product of peasant economies. They have become a Regional Research and Information Network on Panela in Latin America and the Caribbean. The information activities they carry out range from selective dissemination of research results and of the literature coming out, to a question-and-answers service that the network members collectively manage, to electronic discussion groups they are starting to organize on concrete problems that have been identified through the network. It also includes direct technical assistance to the producer (extension), with a feedback to the research that is done in CORPOICA and in the other participating organizations.

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It is interesting to point out that the members of PanelaNet are starting to consider themselves a “Virtual Research Centre on Panela”, that is reaching a critical mass of researchers on this topic that CORPOICA alone would never have been able to mobilize (nor any of the other participating institutions). This Virtual Research Centre cuts across the concrete research centres (and other types of organization) in which the network members actually work. As such, it can be seen as a “Knowledge System” that has emerged in Panela, that includes research, training (not formal education), extension, information dissemination, innovation at the farm level (concrete innovations have been introduced in the trapiches), and back to research for further improvement, and/or looking for new technological options or new products. And the main element that has brought these different actors together, to interact as a knowledge system, has been the networking ability and the networking capacity that the stakeholders have developed through information and knowledge sharing, through the common perceptions and interests they have been able to develop on the basis of dialogue, and the opportunities and advantages they have been able to identify for collaboration. But a key aspect to emphasize is that this process of networking has involved a multi-stakeholder networking; not only networking among researchers. It is also interesting to point out that these multi-stakeholder knowledge systems are one of the key elements in facilitating the integration of NARS (evolving from the NARIs to the NARS model), which is an issue that we will analyze in the next section, in which we will briefly mention some of the main efforts aimed at developing a new paradigm for agricultural research. In terms of the information dimension, one of the important functions that are carried out by the Regional Agricultural Information Systems (RAIS), that the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (the NARS Secretariat) is supporting in close cooperation with the respective Regional/Sub-regional Fora (see section 4.2.1 above), is precisely to identify these regional information resources, or knowledge systems, of which PanelaNet is an example. Such regional information resources will be strengthened by the closer interaction they can develop with global information facilities, with similar groups in other regions (inter-regional exchange of experiences), and with other institutions of international ARD, through the respective RAIS. Here we see one of the important functions of the Regional Agricultural Information Systems in operation, and the value-added they can contribute to the strengthening of a Global Knowledge System in ARD.


Coping with the Challenges: A New Paradigm for Agricultural Research for Development

In the previous two sections we have analyzed some of the deep changes that are taking place in the context of agricultural research for development (ARD). The institutional structure of ARD has continued to diversify with stronger partners appearing among the NARS and with new actors playing an increasingly important role, as it is the case with the private sector and with NGOs, besides the traditional role played by IARCs and ARIs, as two of the main actors in agricultural research for development. The integration of the university in the process of knowledge generation and dissemination, and not only in human resources development, is a particularly important aspect. The science-base for agricultural research has broaden, with the very rapid development of molecular biology, agroecology and other science areas, making it necessary to re-think the organization of research efforts. As we saw in the previous section, the ICT revolution is changing the context in which networks operate since immediate connectivity is now feasible, opening-up the possibility for new types of research partnerships.

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Finally, for development impact to be achieved, research results have to feed into “Agricultural and Rural Knowledge and Information Systems” (ARKIS) constituted by networks of researchers, extensionists, development practitioners and farmers, in order to be able to generate innovation (technological and social) on the basis of interactive learning and knowledge development processes.11 This last point relates to the importance of networking among the different persons and groups that intervene in the knowledge-generation, knowledge-dissemination and knowledge-appropriation (innovation) process. The above considerations are leading to the need to develop a New Paradigm for Agricultural Research for Development. In this section we will briefly analyze three ongoing processes that reflect this process. They are: (a) The effort being carried out by the OECD countries of developing an integrated Agricultural Knowledge System (AKS), based on re-thinking the relationship and the interaction between agricultural education, research, and extension. (b) The process of institutional transformation of their research infrastructures that is taking place in many developing countries, in evolving from a NARIs model to a NARS model for agricultural research (NARS integration). (c) Changes that are taking place in international agricultural research for development, seeking to strengthen research partnerships through the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), as a way of providing a framework for the mobilization of the global agricultural research community around the topics of food security, poverty eradication and sustainable development. This third initiative seeks to complement the CGIAR, by integrating the other 96% of global agricultural research to the development objectives that have been mentioned. We will briefly analyze each one. The first case of institutional change refers to the effort presently being carried out by the OECD countries of re-thinking the interaction between agricultural education, research and extension, in terms of the need to develop an integrated Agricultural Knowledge System (AKS). Traditionally, in both developed and developing countries these three functions have been in the hands of different institutions, as well as ministries or government agencies, with little interaction among them. The programme that is being developed among the OECD countries is aimed at developing a capacity of addressing new and more complex tasks through coordinated actions by these three main functions: agricultural education, research and extension. Through the analysis of concrete case studies in different countries, it is expected that best practice will be identified, as well as the factors that intervene in facilitating joint efforts among them and in determining the effectiveness of these strategic alliances. While the relationship between the components of the three main branches of an Agricultural Knowledge System used to be largely characterized by a flow of knowledge being generated by research, and disseminated and transformed by education and extension, current concepts are leading to a very different approach: one that is based on interactive knowledge development via knowledge networks which may operate on regional, national or transnational levels. This new environment and approach is creating innovative relationships between the main components of the AKS (education, research, extension), leading them to a much closer cooperation, with many agents adopting more than one role.12


The World Bank and FAO are presently developing rural development programmes that use the ARKIS approach to the dissemination and utilization of knowledge, seeking to increase the development impact of agricultural research and extension.


Information on this ongoing experience and on the different case studies that are being prepared can be found at the website that was established for this purpose: http://www.oecd.org/agr/aks/backgr.htm .

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The second case we would like to mention is the deep process of institutional transformation of their research infrastructures that is taking place in developing countries. With the appearance of new institutional actors, and with the felt need of increasing cooperation and synergisms among them and of more clearly integrating the end-user (the farmer) into the research process, many National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) have recently undergone, or are presently considering, significant processes of organizational change. This is particularly the case of countries in Sub-Sahara Africa and in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the trends are developing everywhere. One of the reasons for this process of institutional reform is generated by the increasing criticism NARS are facing in terms of the limited development impact they are achieving. The main underlying trend is that of an evolution from an organizational model based on the almost exclusive role of large public National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs), to one based on national research systems (NARS). As in the case of the OECD countries, the systems approach seeks not only to integrate the new institutional actors (NGOs, universities, the private sector), but also to develop flexible inter-institutional arrangements through which interactive knowledge development can take place. This is leading to new innovative forms of partnerships between the public and the private sectors, and to new collaborative research approaches that bring together NARIs, universities and NGOs. Until very recently, the interaction among these three types of organizations had been very weak. Another trend that is observable in the changing structure of NARS is that of seeking to more closely relate education, research and extension, based on the development of knowledge systems that integrate these three functions in responding to specific user needs, production constraints, or sustainable development challenges. In this process, the multifunctional character of agriculture and of land use, as well as the increasing importance of natural resource management, is also leading to a changing institutional picture and changing research requirements. The recent conference organized by FAO and the Netherlands on this topic analyzed the implications of a multifunctional approach to agricultural and land utilization activities.13 The third major dimension that is leading to a new research paradigm for agricultural research is that of the changes that are taking place in international agricultural research for development (ARD). The contextual changes analyzed above are also leading to a changing role for international centres (IARCs), which have been the main agent of global ARD since the Green Revolution. IARCs will continue to play a very important role, given the quality of their human resources, the importance of the germplasm collections they hold, and the strategic role they play in generating international public goods that are required to respond to the development challenges mentioned in section 1 of this paper. But the context of international agricultural research is changing very rapidly. In some research areas, specially in those where proprietary technologies have quickly developed, the private sector is playing the leading role. More than 80% of total global investment in biotechnology is being generated by the private sector. The corporate research strategies of large private companies has changed significantly, shifting from strategies that rely basically on their in-house research capacity, to a very aggressive policy of outsourcing research to major Universities that are in the frontier of science in key strategic research areas, and to the development of research partnerships with other companies or research centres that can contribute to their corporate objectives. Several


Information on the papers presented at this conference and on the results that were obtained can be found at the website of the Maastricht Conference on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land (September 12-17, 1999): http://www.fao.org/mfcal .

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recent studies on innovation in developed countries, as well as a recent report by the CGIAR Private Sector Committee, highlight the increasing importance of innovation and learning networks as a major source of technical change in the contemporary world.14 Several factors are strongly encouraging the various stakeholders of ARD to seek such partnerships and cooperation. Among them, the following can be mentioned: (a) the magnitude of the development challenges that are being faced in terms of poverty, food security and sustainable development; (b) the increasing complexity of research issues and the rapid rate of scientific and technological progress, that makes it increasingly difficult for any one stakeholder to cope with these requirements; (c) the increasing importance of networks in both knowledge generation and dissemination, facilitated by the ICT revolution that makes networking easier and more effective; (d) the institutional diversification that is taking place in ARD and the need to develop an integrated approach among the different institutions linked to agricultural education, research and extension; and (e) diminishing research budgets based on public funds, while confronted with expanding research agendas and increasing research costs. One of the main challenges we confront in order to respond to this situation is that of developing a new framework for mobilizing the global scientific community in agricultural research around the objectives of food security, poverty eradication, and sustainable development. This is the objective of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) that was formally established in October of 1996, and that is presently in the process of implementation. The GFAR is a new dynamic initiative aiming to promote a Global System for Agricultural Research based on cost-effective partnerships and strategic alliances among the key players involved in agricultural research. At the heart of the GFAR are three fundamental beliefs: first, a science-based vision of the future based on the appreciation of the role that knowledge plays in contemporary societies; secondly, the conviction that knowledge generation and utilization is increasingly based on transnational research systems and networks (importance of networking and of the development of knowledge systems analyzed in the previous section); thirdly, the awareness that the new areas of science, such as biotechnology and information and communication technology (ICT) are generating new opportunities for the developing countries, but at the same time they can lead to increasing inequities between and within countries, based on their capacity to access and use these new technologies. The objective of this paper is not to describe this initiative as such, but it is important to highlight the three main activities that the Global Forum is presently carrying out, that are closely related to the issues analyzed in this paper: a)

Formulation of a Global Shared Vision and of a strategic global agenda that may reflect the common interests of the various stakeholders of ARD.


Promote innovative research partnerships based on the comparative advantages of each stakeholder.


On this topic see CGIAR: Strengthening CGIAR-Private Sector Partnerships in Biotechnology; Washington, CGIAR Secretariat, April 30 1997. Similar trends are observed in several recent studies on technical change and innovation in the agroindustrial sector in OECD countries. See for example OECD: The Knowledge-Based Economy, Paris, OECD/GD, 1996.

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Build an enabling framework for agricultural research information for development, as a first step towards the emergence of a Global Knowledge System in ARD.

One of the first tasks of the Global Forum has been to embark upon the formulation of a "Global Shared Vision (GSV) 2025" that can mobilize the global community of agricultural research for development (ARD) around a common set of shared perceptions and objectives, as well as a Vision of the future, and of the role both agriculture and ARD play in constructing that future. As such, the objective of the GSV is to provide a sense of purpose to our efforts, a sense of urgency for action, and a common framework that may orient that action. The GSV is being developed through a very intensive consultation and discussion process that involves all stakeholders of ARD. A first draft of the GSV is available, and an Issues Paper is being prepared analyzing recent trends in agricultural research and proposing a new approach to agricultural research, in order to make feasible the objectives of poverty eradication, food security and sustainable development. The suggested approach is based on a knowledgeintensive agriculture, that replaces an input-intensive and energy inefficient one.15 The second major activity of GFAR is that of promoting innovative research partnerships. At this point we will only make reference to one of the proposals that is presently being discussed in the context of GFAR. It is a proposal that is emerging from the European Forum on Agricultural Research for Development (ARD), aimed at promoting and facilitating the organization of global and regional research partnerships or networks on key topics/crops of interest to several stakeholders of ARD, based on the concept of commodity chains and of networking in major crops. These Global and Regional Programmes or Networks, that complement what the CGIAR does through its international centres, could provide the general framework for global cooperation in this sector. These programmes could become the venue for joint efforts among the various stakeholders of ARD, including NARS, ARIs, the private sector, IARCS and NGOs. Innovative funding mechanisms would have to be devised for them, based on both cost-sharing schemes and on financial contributions by interested stakeholders and donors. The third major activity, which is that of developing an enabling framework for the emergence of a Global Knowledge System in ARD, is closely linked to the issues that were discussed in section 4 of this paper.16


Knowledge Systems for Agricultural and Rural Development: A Vision for the 21st Century

Among the various information and communication technologies the utilization of Internet as an enabling technology for rural development programmes has attracted


On this point see GFAR: A Global Shared Vision; Rome, FAO/NARS Secretariat, First Draft, July 1999. The Issues Paper that is being developed along with the Shared Vision Statement places the emphasis on the emergence of a new approach to agricultural research, based on the concept of a Knowledge-intensive Agriculture.


For more information on this third component of GFAR activities, see GFAR: Information Initiatives in Agricultural Research: Follow-up to the Rome Consultation Meeting; Rome, FAO/NARS Secretariat, June 25, 1999.

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considerable attention. The clear potential of this technology for facilitating interaction among people and for enabling community action, while at the same time being able to tap different information and knowledge sources, has been clearly demonstrated through various pilot projects that are taking place in different developing countries, such as the experience of the Swaminathan Foundation in India, and various pilot telecentre projects around the world. These projects are trying out different approaches and strategies, including how to cope with the issue of the sustainability of such endeavors. The limited access to the web in the rural sectors of developing countries continues to be a very significant limiting factor, specially in the least developed regions. Nevertheless, there are three factors why these technologies will play an increasingly important role in agricultural and rural development efforts in the near future. One is the rapid expansion of access to the World Wide Web that is presently taking place that will increasingly include rural areas. The access capacity in Sub-Sahara Africa, for example, is expected to significantly increase through such telecommunication investment projects as the AfricaOne Project, that is expected to be completed by the year 2002, which will put an optical fibber cable around the entire African continent. Cable networks are also doing significant advances in several developing countries. In the somewhat longer term, new technologies that already exist but are costly at the present time, can radically change the picture when they become less costly. An example of such technologies is that of global satellite communication networks. Secondly, there is a very important range of other Internet applications which require much less bandwidth than web technology. These technologies are already being used in various pilot projects, such as the case of the rural telecentres mentioned above, that allow for knowledge dissemination and sharing of information and of experiences among stakeholders of ARD, as well as access to knowledge.17 Thirdly, information and communication technologies that combine educational technology (distance education) with interactive multimedia and with CD-ROM technology, is providing very powerful ICT tools that facilitate the types of applications and rural development efforts discussed in section 4 of this paper. But despite the very important enabling role the new IC technologies play, the main challenges we confront are not the technological constraints, such as access to the web. Technology is only one dimension of the problem. The main challenges we confront are more of an institutional, an organizational and a socio-cultural nature. The multiple interactions between research, training, extension and innovation in production that led to the emergence of a knowledge system in the case of panela (see case of PanelaNet in section 4.2.3 above), did not emerge only from the e-mail linkages and from the information services offered through the web page. The communication technologies here played an important catalytic role, but they had to be complemented by the existence of interested stakeholders, by the capacity of the research team to produce good quality research and relevant technologies, by the networking capacity that the stakeholders developed through the sharing of knowledge and information, by farmer participation and involvement, and by the development of shared perceptions among the stakeholders of the opportunities and challenges they face and of the role of knowledge and technology in responding to them.


For an interesting analysos of some of the available technologies see Rutger J. Engelhard: Inter-Networking for National Agricultural Information Systems in ACP Countries: Making the Internet Work; Wageningen, CTA, August 1999.

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