Information Communication Technologies (ICTs)


Photo credit: Ros Goodway







The use of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) for development is quickly evolving as mobile technologies become more common in the developing world. Oxfam has been using ICTs for projects, such as for monitoring water points, providing cash transfers with mobiles during an emergency, and child protection.  Recently Oxfam has adopted ICTs for strengthening it's livelihoods markets-based programmes, particularly in agriculture. It has the potential to help rural farmers access information that can improve their livelihood and resilience by providing timely information on finding the best prices for inputs and products, locating transportation, accommodating for weather forecasts and mobile-facilitated payment, credit or insurance.


What are ICTs?

ICTs refer to any product that will store, retrieve, manipulate, transmit or receive information, such as personal computers, television, radio, email and mobile phones. 


Mobile Agriculture

Mobile Agriculture (mAgri) are value-added services that can be provided by a Mobile Network Operator, government, a Non-Governmental Organisation or an International Organisation to farmers using SMS, voice calls, video, photo or other technology. The services can be divided into the following categories with service offered and associated benefits:


i. Information services and knowledge exchange networks

  • Service: weather forecasts, market information, agronomic information
  • Benefits: better choice on inputs, better sustainable agriculture practices, improved productivity, higher crop quality, higher prices received


ii. Value chain connections

  • Service: aggregation of farmers for purchase and sale, connection with input providers and buyers
  • Benefits: purchase more cheaply, access to larger buyers, less product loss, access to new products and markets


iii. Financial services

  • Service: mobile-facilitated payment systems, credit, weather index crop insurance
  • Benefits: reduced risks and transaction costs, access to credit, reduced vulnerability to risks and shocks


Oxfam's Approach

There are three types of ICT interventions: 


Types of Intervention

A. Linking an existing service offering with an Oxfam programme


Practical Example: A mobile network operator currently provides services free of charge to any caller on the following topics: agriculture, weather, prices, transport, education and health.  This service will help programme beneficiaries and partners to access information on weather forecasts, production and processing practices, and market prices that will help them increase the productivity and quality of their production and bargaining power.


B. Collaborating with others to improve a current service offering to address unmet needs


Practical Example: In a particular area, services are provided through a mobile network operator on agriculture, but not on fish or livestock. To expand existing service offering to meet the needs identified in the fish and livestock industry, Oxfam will need to facilitate negotiations between the mobile network operator, donors, NGOs and think tanks.


C. Designing and implementing new services through public-private partnerships to address service gaps 


Practical Example: A mobile network operator and the Ministry of Agriculture both are interested in developing new and innovative mobile services for farmers. Oxfam could work together with the operator and the Ministry to help develop the service offering, and link the service to the beneficiaries of its livelihoods programme.


Guidance Principles

  1. Build on existing ICT infrastructure and services where possible: Using common platforms and sharing application development will reduce costs and will increase the likelihood of success by supporting a smoother customer transition to new platforms and reducing the risks that the ICT will be faulty or too difficult to use.
  2. Keep the technology simple: Low-tech or "appropriate" solutions tend to reduce costs, improve reliability, and are easier to source and frequently easier to use.
  3. Plan for the future, not the now: Long-term vision is essential and planning for sustainability (financial, ecological and social) and scalability of initiatives need to be thought out before planning a pilot.  While planning a pilot, consideration should be made for financial sustainability, exit strategy,  the legal and regulatory environment, and the current and potential mobile infrastructure of the area.  In order to ensure financial sustainability and commercial viability it is crucial to develop reliable revenue to offset operational costs and to provide critical partners with a unique value proposition and a clear rationale for their continued support.
  4. Listen to the beneficiaries: It is vital to engage stakeholders continuously to understand their needs, habits and risks and also to maximise control and ownership over services.  Incorporating systems to measure impact is also important to ensure that services effectively meet the needs of the beneficiaries.
  5. Information must be timely, actionable and relevant: Timely: Users have the information they need when they need it; consideration has been given to appropriate delivery channels. Actionable: The advice or information delivered has value that can be acted upon. Relevant: Information is relevant to the farmer's location, climatic zone, current position in the agricultural cycle, income level, farming activity and native language.
  6. Women's Empowerment: an awareness of cultural, financial and educational barriers that might prevent women or other marginalized groups from accessing technologies and services.  Ensure that the technologies to not negatively impact gender power dynamics or exacerbate existing inequalities.

Guidance Paper for Incorporating the use of ICTs into Oxfam’s markets-based livelihoods programmes

This Guidance Paper considers ways of incorporating ICTs into markets-based livelihoods programmes. It suggests ways to identify and then use the opportunities offered by ICTs particularly in agriculture. These can include information services, value chain linkages, and financial services. The paper presents a pragmatic and strategic approach that minimises time and cost requirements while maximising sustainability and influencing potential of these types of intervention.

It provides a series of practical steps to determine the kind of intervention that is needed, draws on lessons learned, looks at existing services, covers principles for success, and advises on how to avoid potential failures. Practical examples are given from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda.

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