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Still a major role for ICT use in Agriculture in the Caribbean

(by Nazima Raghubir)

The value of ICT role in agriculture in the Region is being under estimated in many ways. But according to a regional study of ICTs in Agriculture Value Chains not all is lost. Having been conducted in five countries: Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Jamaica, Barbados and St Kitts and Nevis, the study has shown that there are mixed signals coming from those in the Agriculture sector on the use of ICT and how the use of the various mediums can help growth in the sector. Atiba Phillips, Lead Consultant at INFOCOMM technologies which led the study told a validation workshop that on Sunday challenges exist. There is a lack of ICT related training.

“Folks admitted that they didn’t use enough ICT and others admitted who they work with didn’t use ICT or didn’t do enough training.”

Then there is the lack of local up dated information on farmers, production suppliers and most importantly research.

 “We found in some countries research was being done about good economic practices and genetics and in other countries they were struggling with the same issues…Farmers are pushing produce into the market without an understanding of the consumer that what the reality it, they are producing what they feel when they feel it, because their neighbour doing it, because they feel whatever they feel.”

But all is not lost. The use of mobile phones, text messaging, Blackberry Messenger, Whatsapp and social media sites like Facebook have all been used to share information, seek help or push sales in some countries. The usage of ICT Technologies is not as it should be since according to Phillips its usage in Guyana’s Agriculture sector seemed extremely low.

Despite that there seem to be efforts to have communication using various mediums in Guyana since the study found, the “ West Berbice Sheep and Goats Farmers Association”  Facebook Page has aided farmers in the mostly agricultural based location to interact about issues affecting them and sharing solutions.

The New Guyana Marketing Corporation’s www.newgmc.com website is also seen as “major source for marketing and pricing” of locally produced foods and vegetables.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the study found that there were Facebook pages set up by farmers’ groups and associations to serve farmers need for information on farming techniques and in some cases market prices. Also sites like www.namdevco.com , www.namistt.com and www.ttbizlink.com all which service slightly different purposes but have one major common goal, to assist in the Agriculture sector.

Among the challenges faced by farmers accessing these sites is that the sites are not always updated in a timely manner Phillips explained.

When the study examined the use of ICT in Barbados, Phillips said that it “didn’t see any places that people can get demand data”. This could be important for farmers in the island who rear Barbados Black belly sheep.

The study found though that farmers used radio and television shows for information as well as the internet to interact with suppliers of materials.

In Jamaica, farmers’ videos could be found on a popular farming YouTube Channel, EatJamaican101 operated by the Rural Agriculture Development Authority, RADA.

Phillips further spoke on the the study’s findings that support services and information could be found on sites operated by the Jamaica Agricultural Marketing Information System as well as the Agriculture and Information System.

The Jeffrey Town Farmers Association with its own radio station provides a more reaches out to farmers with a more personal touch using radio broadcast and providing alerts on weather, farming tips and information sharing.

ICT in many ways hold more than one solutions that can transform the region to become self-sufficient in face of rising food costs and a rising food import bill.

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