Interview

…it is crucial that people have real access to ICT : Dr William D Dar, The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), India

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Director General
The International Crops Research Institute,
for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)

w.dar@cgiar.org

How would you like to define role of ICT in a developing nation?
The likelihood that people in developing countries can improve their lives is often limited not only by their lack of access to modern means of communication and sources of information, but also by complex network of constraints ranging from poverty and injustice in their own societies to the structure and dynamics of the global economic system. Access to ICT can make major difference in a developing nation. ICT impacts on human capital development through improved access to education and training via distance learning programmes and education tools and their transfer to remote locations. Secondly, natural capital is enhanced by greater access to institutions dealing with different aspects of natural resource management and sharing of experiences with other individuals and communities to develop local solutions to problems. Thirdly, supporting and strengthening local financial institutions to improve the provision of information on services and facilities available, can lead to better financial capital. Fourthly, social capital accrues with improved ‘networking’ both at the community level with existing networks and amongst a much wider community, with positive impacts at the household level. Fifthly, physical capital is created by access to markets and market information.

Has ICT proliferated the problem of ‘digital divide’? Can you suggest some solutions?
The ‘digital divide’ is a primary indicator of unequal opportunity, separating those who can access and use ICT and those who do not have access to technology or cannot use it. All countries, even the poorest, are increasing their access to and use of ICT. But the ‘information have’ countries are increasing access and use at such an exponential rate that the divide between countries is actually growing. Within countries, all groups are also increasing their access to and use of ICT. Here too, ‘information haves’ are increasing access and use at such an exponential rate that the division within countries is also actually growing. For ICT to have a real impact, it is crucial that people have real access to it.

The ‘digital divide’ can be bridged when factors such as physical access, appropriate technology to suit local conditions, affordability, capacity, relevant content, integration, socio-cultural factors, trust, legal and regulatory framework, local economic environment, etc are tackled. There is also the need to build capacity among the local users in making use of ICT to access relevant information. That should be fulfilled as well.

Which development sectors have higher potential to apply ICT for its remarkable progress?
From a series of studies carried out in India, it emerges that access to information on public services is a key area that will derive maximum advantage. Health-related consultations are known to get a boost. Marketing of rural produce is known to become more efficient.

The area that is likely to derive maximum advantage is capacity strengthening of rural youth and knowledge sharing among local communities, especially in relation to marketing and disease control. Disaster preparedness is another key area.

How ICRISAT is encouraging ICT application in development sector?
ICRISAT believes that rural communities are better able to cope with drought when they have access to timely information and knowledge. The Virtual Academy for the Semi-Arid Tropics (VASAT) is a strategic information, communication and non-formal distance education coalition hosted by ICRISAT that aims to explore and interface ICTs with open and distance learning (ODL) so that information and knowledge can be shared in innovative and effective ways.

To what extent ICT applications are fruitful in relation to the work of your organisation?
As an international agricultural research centre, our organisation is mandated to produce and disseminate international public goods, and ICT-based tools and methods have for long been used in my organisation. An example is the information on plant genetic resources held in trust by ICRISAT on behalf of the global community. Information on these resources is effectively disseminated using ICT. Map products and data on village level studies are other examples.

Agricultural extension is an important area for improving food security of rural communities in the rainfed areas of the tropics. This sector can derive benefits from emerging ICT applications. Our VASAT programme is an example of how we intend to use ICT to help our ultimate clientele.

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