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Global Development Institute

Impact of ICTs-in-Agriculture on Rural Resilience in Developing Countries

William Hanson and Richard Heeks

Abstract

Agriculture remains the dominant sector for rural areas in developing countries.  However, short-term shocks (e.g. conflict, economic crisis) and long-term trends (e.g. climate change) hamper and can even reverse attempted gains in agricultural productivity and related rural development outcomes.  Influenced by the current sustainable development paradigm, it is increasingly acknowledged that, to address this, rural households and communities must strengthen their resilience.

Given their growing role in rural livelihoods, information and communication technologies (ICTs) will be a key part of resilience-building.  Yet we currently know very little about this.  To address this knowledge gap, a systematic literature review was undertaken to establish two things.  First, the extent to which use of ICTs-in-agriculture (ICT4Ag) is weakening or strengthening the resilience of rural households and communities in developing countries.  Second, an explanation of why the observed impacts are occurring.

Measuring resilience using the RABIT (Resilience Assessment Benchmarking and Impact Toolkit) framework, current reported evidence suggests ICTs are strengthening rural resilience far more than weakening it.  However, the impact is highly uneven.  Household resilience is built far more than community resilience, and there is a strong differential impact across different resilience attributes: equality in particular is reported as being undermined almost as much as enhanced.  A new conceptual model is inductively created to explain some of these outcomes.  It highlights the importance of individual user motivations, complementary resources required to make ICT4Ag systems support resilience, and the role of wider systemic factors such as institutions and structural relations.

The paper draws policy/practice conclusions: more equal focus on both household- and community-level resilience, more attention to the resilience-weakening potential of ICTs, ensuring perceived utility of digital applications among rural users, encouraging use of more complex ICT4Ag systems, and looking beyond the technology to make parallel, complementary changes in resource provision and development of rural institutions and social structures.  Conclusions are also drawn about the conceptualisation of resilience: better incorporation of agency and power, and greater clarity on resilience system boundaries and indicators.

Overall, we contribute new frameworks, new evidence, new practical guidance and a research agenda for those seeking to strengthen rural resilience through use of ICTs.

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