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The Relationship between digital revolution and agribusiness

The digital revolution

It would be hard to overstate the scope for Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to drive agricultural and rural development, especially for the poorest smallholders and other households, whose livelihoods would benefit greatly from improved production, stronger market linkages and the opportunity to engage in agricultural value chains. Yet much of this potential remains untapped, particularly in the case of women, who play a fundamental role in agricultural production, rural income generation and as agents of development.

The digital revolution has changed the way we work, access information and connect with each other. It offers opportunities to those who can use the new technologies, but also presents new challenges for those who are left behind. Although this revolution is reaching rural areas in many developing countries, the rural digital divide is still an issue, and disparities are growing with the introduction of fast-changing technologies. The challenges are especially acute for women, who face a triple divide: digital, rural and gender.

New information technologies are radically transforming the way that information and knowledge are disseminated and shared around the world. The technology revolution could accelerate progress towards gender equality, but it could also exacerbate existing inequalities.

Definition of ICTs

Information and Communication Technologies include devices, networks, services and applications. These can range from cutting edge Internet-based technologies and sensing tools to other technologies that have been around for much longer, such as radio, telephones, mobile phones, television and satellites?

The triple divide

It is crucial that both women and men have access to, use and control of ICTs, as these can play a critical role in overcoming the daily hurdles that they encounter as farmers, entrepreneurs and agents of development for their communities.

People living in rural areas, especially farmers in developing countries, face what is known as the triple divide.

This is a digital, rural and gender divide, which has the effect of relegating rural women to the most marginalized position when it comes to access to, and use of ICTs. The World Bank's Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook underscores the potential for ICTs, when used in a gender sensitive way, to help bridge these divides and advance the processes of social inclusion, with tangible results, including a narrowing of the economic and social divide between women and men.

The use of gender sensitive ICT solutions and applications, combined with traditional means of communication and information based on local needs and expectations, can make a significant contribution to improving gender equality, and hence to alleviating poverty through improved agricultural production.

The gender divide in numbers

  • 1.2 out of 2.9 billion females own a mobile phone in low- and middle-income countries (41%).
  • 1.4 out of 3.0 billion males own a mobile phone in low- and middle-income countries (46%).
  • 300 million unconnected females live in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Women are 14 percent less likely than men to own a mobile phone.

In 2017, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimated Internet penetration rate for men and women in 2017. The proportion of women using the Internet is 12% lower than the proportion of men using the Internet worldwide. While the gender gap has narrowed in most regions since 2013, it has widened in Africa. In Africa, the proportion of women using the Internet is 25% lower than the proportion of men using the Internet. In least developed countries, only one out of seven women is using the Internet compared with one out of five men.

Within the digital divide there is a generational divide. Some 70 percent of the world's youth are online. An analysis of the distribution of individuals using the Internet by age, shows that the proportion of young people aged 15-24 (71%) is significantly higher than that of the total population using the Internet (48%). Youth is at the forefront of Internet adoption and this is extremely promising.

In 104 countries, more than 80 percent of the youth population is online. In developed countries, 94 percent of young people aged 15-24 uses the Internet, compared with 67 percent in developing countries, and only 30 percent in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Of the 830 million young people who are online, 320 million (39%) are in China and India. Nearly 9 out of 10 young individuals not using the Internet live in Africa or Asia and the Pacific.

Young people represent almost one-quarter of the total number of individuals using the Internet worldwide. In LDCs, 35 percent of the individuals using the Internet are young people aged 15-24, compared with 13 percent in developed countries and 23 percent globally.

The triple divide : digital, rural and gender

The triple divide consists of the digital divide, the rural divide and the gender divide.

The digital divide refers to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern ICTs, and those that don't have access, or have restricted access.

The rural divide refers to the gap between urban and rural areas in access to ICTs. The gender divide refers to the differences between women and men in access to ICTs, resulting in rural women being relegated to the most disadvantaged position.

Digital divide: In 2017, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reports that there are substantial digital divides between countries and regions, and between developed and developing countries, particularly Least Developed Countries (LDC).

There are twice as many mobile-broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in developed countries as in developing countries, while the gap between more connected developing countries and LDCs has grown in recent years. Mobile Broadband subscription rates are much higher in Europe and the Americas than in other regions, and more than three times those of Africa. Subscribers in developed countries also tend to benefit from higher bandwidth than those in developing countries.

Rural divide: Due to poor infrastructure, lack of electricity and the fact that they many of the most remote areas are still beyond the reach of a mobile signal, rural communities in developing countries are even more disadvantaged. Low incomes and high levels of illiteracy are additional barriers to possible adoption of ICTs.

Gender divide: Men and women do not have the same access to, use of and control over ICTs. ITU's ICT Facts and figures 2017 reports that the proportion of women using the Internet worldwide is 12 percent lower than that of men. While the gender gap has narrowed in most regions since 2013, it has widened in Africa. Here, the proportion of women using the Internet is 25 percent lower than that of men. In least developed countries, only one in seven women is using the Internet, compared with one in five men. In 2017, the global Internet penetration rate for men stood at 50.9 percent, compared with 44.9 percent for women. In the Americas, the number of women using the Internet is greater than that of men.

National e-agriculture strategies

In the agricultural sector, the development of an e-agriculture strategy that mainstreams gender can prevent e-agriculture projects from being implemented in isolation, avoiding duplication of efforts and resources. It also helps to develop efficiency gains from intra sector and cross-sector synergy. An e-agriculture strategy can pave the way for policy options to bridge the technology divide in rural areas, and ensure equal prospects for rural men and women, young and old, to access ICTs quickening the pace of innovations, and increasing incomes and job opportunities. Agricultural research, education and extension systems can also greatly benefit from a national e-agriculture strategy.

Definition of e-agriculture

E-agriculture involves designing, developing and applying innovative ways to use information and communication technologies (ICTs) - including digital technologies in the rural domain, with a primary focus on agriculture, including fisheries, forestry and livestock.

The aim is to boost agricultural and rural development by improving access to valuable information that can help people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture to make the best possible decisions, and use the resources available in the most productive and sustainable manner.

The digital revolution has changed the way we work, access information and connect with each other. It offers opportunities to those who can access and use the new technologies, but also presents new challenges for those who are left behind, increasing divides as a result. Although this revolution is reaching rural areas in many developing countries, the rural digital divide is still an issue, and disparities are growing with the introduction of fast changing technologies. The challenges are especially acute for women, who face a triple divide: digital, rural and gender.