Global e-Agriculture and Rural Development: E-Value Creation, Implementation Challenges, and Future Directions

Global e-Agriculture and Rural Development: E-Value Creation, Implementation Challenges, and Future Directions

Blessing Maumbe (Bindura University of Science Education, Zimbabwe)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2655-3.ch001
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E-agriculture is a newly emerging field that is receiving increasing attention from governments, agribusiness industry, and the agriculture community worldwide. Over the past decade, the world has witnessed major growth and expansion of e-agriculture projects that integrate information and communication technologies in agriculture value chains and rural development. The rise of e-agriculture has led to increased focus on the need to fully understand its impact on rural development, food security, and poverty alleviation by policy makers, researchers, and farmers. Global institutions such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Summit for Information Society (WSIS), and the World Bank have identified the development of e-agriculture as a key priority. This chapter sets the platform for a key publication designed to advance the global debate on e-agriculture development and policy. The chapter outlines key insights into the conceptualization of e-agriculture, innovative project initiatives, e-value creation, lessons learnt, and emerging challenges associated with e-agriculture implementation in various parts of the world. The main lesson is that e-agriculture is a growing field that is pivotal to the global agriculture development agenda in the 21st century.
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The past decade has witnessed a rapid growth in the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in agriculture around the world (World Bank, 2008; Maumbe, 2010). The growing use of ICT in agriculture or “e-agriculture,” has begun to play a pivotal role in global agriculture and rural development. The global significance of e-agriculture which stands for “electronic” or “digital” agriculture is being felt through its diverse influences on agricultural input procurement, production, processing, distribution, market exchanges, agribusiness development, food security, and rural poverty alleviation. E-agriculture development is driving major transformations in agriculture today. The benefits from e-agriculture are derived from high value agricultural chains, productivity gains, global market access, e-agriculture services, efficient decision making, and enhanced communication with key industry stakeholders (Okello, 2010; Lio, 2006).

Although e-agriculture is now widely spread in the world, its development is not homogenous. The uneven nature of global e-agriculture development landscape presents challenges and opportunities. One of the challenges of e-agriculture development is its unintended consequence to create new forms of “digital divide” that further isolate other developing countries. Nonetheless, vast opportunities lie in the untapped potential in the future growth and expansion of e-agriculture. Currently, there are approximately 5.3 billion mobile cellular subscriptions and that number is expected to grow as more countries upgrade to third generation (3G) and fourth generation (4G) ICT with even faster broadband speeds (ITU, 2011). Recent evidence show increasing use of ICT especially mobile phones in rural areas (Aker, 2008). E-agriculture is of particular importance in developing nations given that agriculture is a key economic sector that contributes the most to employment, exports, and gross domestic product (GDP), it also affects the livelihoods of billions of people.

Despite the euphoria surrounding the development and growth of e-agriculture globally, it is still not well understood. Many questions are still being asked by academic scholars, policy makers, agribusiness industry experts and researchers about e-agriculture. Some of these questions include: What exactly is e-agriculture? What are its benefits to farmers, agribusinesses, governments, and society at large? How does e-agriculture differ from traditional agriculture practices that have existed for centuries? What are the policy and institutional issues surrounding the development of e-agriculture globally? How does e-agriculture enhance the performance of production agriculture, rural small and medium-sized agribusinesses, and the global food system in general? These are legitimate questions, and while answers may not be readily available, addressing them is critical to building a knowledge base and understanding of what e-agriculture really entails for society and the future generations.

As global interest about e-agriculture increases, it has become imperative to answer these questions surrounding e-agriculture development. This publication is one of the first major global efforts to examine key projects, agribusiness strategies, and government policies affecting e-agriculture and rural development. This book is motivated by the need to provide a holistic assessment of e-agriculture through a collaborative effort to analyze the scope and extent of e-agriculture worldwide. The findings are expected to not only enhance our understanding of e-agriculture, but highlight key successes and practical challenges associated with its implementation. The unanswered questions about e-agriculture and the socio-economic challenges brought about by its implementation over the past decade warrant a systematic inquiry in order to expand our knowledge and understanding of e-agriculture. The knowledge gained will inform farmers, policy makers, academics, agribusinesses, and society about a relatively new form of agriculture that has emerged and is spreading rapidly around the world.

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