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Technological Infrastructure

The subgroup on technological infrastructure focused on ICT as the technological area most likely to have an immediate impact on peacebuilding activities.

ICT is rapidly becoming more powerful and less expensive. For the price of a tank of gas, an extension agent or an agricultural producer can buy and use a technology that provides tremendous communications and information capabilities. Although even inexpensive cell phones are still too costly for some farmers, prices continue to drop while capabilities, infrastructure, and users increase. Some countries have essentially skipped developing wired networks for communications in favor of wireless systems. Moreover, companies and some countries (e.g., China) also are investing in technology in developing countries in recognition of their productive potential.

Investing in the newest technology simply for the sake of technology is a mistake, cautioned one participant, but new technologies nevertheless have a large and expanding potential to contribute to extension activities with both agricultural and peacebuilding goals.

TECHNOLOGICAL CAPABILITIES FOR EXTENSION AND PEACEBUILDING

What qualities are needed in technologies used in efforts to promote both extension and peace? They should be trustworthy, in that users should



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6 Technological Infrastructure T he subgroup on technological infrastructure focused on ICT as the technological area most likely to have an immediate impact on peace- building activities. ICT is rapidly becoming more powerful and less expensive. For the price of a tank of gas, an extension agent or an agricultural producer can buy and use a technology that provides tremendous communications and informa- tion capabilities. Although even inexpensive cell phones are still too costly for some farmers, prices continue to drop while capabilities, infrastructure, and users increase. Some countries have essentially skipped developing wired networks for communications in favor of wireless systems. Moreover, com- panies and some countries (e.g., China) also are investing in technology in developing countries in recognition of their productive potential. Investing in the newest technology simply for the sake of technology is a mistake, cautioned one participant, but new technologies nevertheless have a large and expanding potential to contribute to extension activities with both agricultural and peacebuilding goals. TECHNOLOGICAL CAPABILITIES FOR EXTENSION AND PEACEBUILDING What qualities are needed in technologies used in efforts to promote both extension and peace? They should be trustworthy, in that users should 39

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40 ADAPTING AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION TO PEACEBUILDING know that the information provided is valid. They should be inexpensive to acquire and use, though they need not be free, since free things often are not taken seriously. They should support long-term capacity to improve both agricultural productivity and social stability. And they should broaden access to information for all people in a community. Once a technology and its associated infrastructure are available, the question becomes what problems to address. For example, what is the information needed to solve a particular problem, whether it involves land tenure, water rights, credit, or technical information? Participants cited sev- eral examples of how ICT is being used for both agricultural extension and peacebuilding. In many places, farmers call on cell phones for prices of agri- cultural commodities in different regions, thereby maximizing their income. They can also call a voicemail number and record a question; an expert then records an answer that is available and accessible to all farmers. Cell phones are also used to take pictures of documents and upload them in a secure loca- tion so that records will always be available. And blogs on agricultural sub- jects are an example of the many applications of social media to extension. In these and other ways, ICT provides access to legal and other kinds of information that are useful for farmers. Technology can thus supplement or augment the advice of an extension agent, providing information that a producer can use to increase outputs. POTENTIAL EXTENSIONS OF ICT The subgroup discussed what participants alternately labeled "Gandhian innovation" or "frugal engineering," in which a community is encouraged and supported to determine how best to use ICT to solve its problems and meet its needs. As the Arab Spring demonstrated, technologies often are used in ways that were not envisioned when they were created. In such cases, the provision of bandwidth and low-cost technologies can lead to innovation that applies creative solutions to local problems. The use of cell phones in particular has become prevalent and adapted for both agricultural and peacebuilding applications. For example, if a farmer engaged in a land dispute draws a map in the sand and an extension officer takes a picture of it with a cell phone, the picture becomes a piece of evidence that can contribute to settlement of the dispute. As another example, a dis- placed person can call friends or family members to check on the status of a home region. Members of opposing sides could even talk with each other on cell phones about differences or possible points of reconciliation.

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TECHNOLOGICAL INFRASTRUCTURE 41 It is important that a technology platform be neutral in its applica- tion. It should not force users into making certain decisions or otherwise be prescriptive. Because literacy cannot be assumed, quality-assured video presentations are a valuable feature. ICT also enables extension personnel to report back on things they see, such as violence or particular agricultural factors, thus creating a positive information feedback loop. And agents can use technology to exchange information with each other, enabling the rapid dissemination of best practices and innovations. To operate as peacebuilders, extension agents must demonstrate inclu- sivity, locality, and neutrality in their use and support of technology. They can do this by making information available to all potential stakeholders, customizing information services to reflect local conditions, and remaining neutral to maintain the trust of local community members. The power of ICT is its potential to create change while meeting these criteria. For example, an extension agent who learns of an impending food crisis can take steps to institute a local coping strategy. Or, during time of conflict, an agent can serve as an archivist for records that may be destroyed in war. Notwithstanding the variety of advantageous uses of ICT, there are some important factors to consider. Technologies need to be upgraded periodi- cally because they change rapidly. People, however, often require more time, especially if they do not have much technical experience or background. A further complication is the reliability of access to technology, as some areas may lack consistent electricity service. But overall, subgroup participants pointed to the potential of even simple technologies to make a difference in agricultural production and conflict reduction, especially in areas where the basic elements of a technol- ogy infrastructure, such as a power grid, are unreliable. For example, radio or simple computers using low-cost video can be both sustainable and scal- able. In this way, even very simple and inexpensive ICT can enable a more equitable distribution of information in a postconflict situation. INVOLVEMENT OF THE PRIVATE SECTOR The private sector is inevitably involved in the provision of technologies for extension activities, and this involvement can take different forms. For example, a company may provide a technology, perhaps with support from a government or NGO, as a free public service that the private sector can use to sell additional services. Such cross-subsidization has been used in many con- texts and is particularly powerful given rapidly increasing ICT capabilities.

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42 ADAPTING AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION TO PEACEBUILDING Many technology companies have outreach programs to gain customers and demonstrate their ability to be good partners for governments and the public. Companies often partner with government to do such demonstra- tions, but may distance themselves in conflict situations to maintain a more neutral stance.