Sun | Jan 23, 2022

Regional expert calls for digital inclusion to improve agriculture

Published:Monday | March 15, 2021 | 12:05 AM
Zulfikar Mustapha, agriculture minister of Guyana.
Zulfikar Mustapha, agriculture minister of Guyana.

Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture Zulfikar Mustapha has underscored the importance of rural digital inclusion is more crucial than ever before to tackle the challenges facing the agricultural sector as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to transform productive activity. Digital skills must be developed throughout the rural population and the sector encouraged to adopt and utilise available technologies and innovations, he urged.

Mustapha made the statement during a presentation of the study – Digital literacy in rural areas: an indispensable condition to bridge the divide in Latin America and the Caribbean – developed by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Microsoft.

“I commend IICA for this initiative, which underscores what must be done in order to develop the digital skills of rural populations, so that technologies and innovations can be adopted and used effectively. We hope that the findings and recommendations arising from the report will help guide decision-making and policy generation in Latin America and the Caribbean in the medium and short terms,” Mustapha said.

The document seeks to contribute to the adoption of policies and bring to the centre of public discussion a relegated issue, such as the adoption of digital skills in rural Latin America and the Caribbean. This is as relevant as the role of connectivity, which when absent, undermines the great productive, social and economic potential existing in rural areas.

SMART FARMS

The head of agriculture of the South American and Caribbean nation also emphasised the importance of digitalisation in agriculture to have more smart farms, move towards more productive and sustainable agrifood systems using precision agriculture, and strengthen e-commerce and digital markets in order to easily connect producers with buyers, and of course, guarantee food security.

The Guyanese minister also underscored the key role of IICA as a promoter of rural digitalisation in its member countries over the years, and in bringing to the forefront the issue of the digital divide. He also mentioned “the role of agriculture in strengthening food security”, which undoubtedly requires “the transformation of agricultural systems through technological innovation”.

In the same spirit, he highlighted various digital agricultural extension initiatives that the organisation specialising in agriculture and rurality is making available to Caribbean countries such as AgriExtApp, a pilot application designed for farmers in Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Guyana and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to ensure their access to remote agricultural extension services.

The app offers information on crop management, best practices, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, online assistance and an information exchange network. Its purpose is to provide assistance to agricultural producers, key players within the ministries of agriculture and extension services.

Mustapha also mentioned the application was used to measure the surplus agricultural production that was made available to the ministries of agriculture to promote intra-regional trade and guarantee food security during the pandemic.