Sixth Fisheries Development Donors’ Consultation 5 March 2001 The effectiveness of information and communication technologies in supporting sustainable development Stephen Rudgard Chief, WAICENT Outreach Programme Introduction The World Food Summit (WFS), hosted by FAO (Rome, 1996), called for the implementation of policies and programmes to eradicate poverty and inequality and to ensure physical and economic access by all to sufficient nutritionally adequate and safe food. Strong emphasis was given in the WFS Plan of Action to strengthening the livelihood strategies of the poor through participatory approaches and methods, and reinforcing rural people's groups and associations as well as other development-related civil society organisations. The WFS highlighted information as one of the priority areas in achieving food security. FAO is committed to using knowledge management as a tool for effective decision-making through the acquisition, synthesis and sharing of insight and experience, and their systematic integration with factual information and analyses. People need information to make decisions about their livelihoods. In poor rural areas, where agricultural productivity is low and unreliable and there is food insecurity, better information and knowledge exchange can play an important role in reducing poverty. Combined with enabling environments, it can empower poor people to shape their own livelihoods. To achieve this, information must be exchanged in a way which enables poor people to participate in the design and selection of tools, media and content which are appropriate to them. Policy Issues Development and research programmes have, over many years, generated vast amounts of knowledge and information to help achieve poverty reduction. However, it is now widely recognised that poor people’s ability to access new knowledge and to share indigenous innovations has depended on fragile and often ineffective exchange mechanisms. New technologies and increased priority and resources for information exchange have the potential to improve the access and benefits of development activities to the rural poor. Given this, the clear focus on poverty reduction by the development community (International Development Targets), new partnerships, and the adoption of people-centred approaches, opportunities now exist to achieve improved impact on poverty reduction. As an example of the new partnerships, any activities in the area of information exchange will require involvement of the private sector, in the context of infrastructure and technical support. Such relationships will potentially have the added benefit of increasing positive outcomes of development initiatives and their sustainability. Globalisation presents opportunities for poverty reduction through increased access to global markets and economies, and, with appropriate conduits, potential involvement of poor people in the development of overarching global policy frameworks. However, if opportunities are to be realised, poor people must be aware of the process and involved in it. It is through information exchange, the enhancement of knowledge exchange systems, and the provision of relevant information content, that poor people will be better placed to engage and benefit from globalisation once there is greater democratisation by national governments. Poverty reduction may be catalysed by increased access to market information, prices, international food safety standards, forecasting information, weather, migrant pest movements, better information exchange between rural and urban areas, access to new technological knowledge, etc. The crucial agent of change will be the provision of previously inaccessible content, culturally adapted to the local context. Innovative participatory approaches to knowledge exchange will be implemented by the programme in several countries and will provide access to livelihoods- based content. These approaches will build on past experiences, and aim to prove the case and learn lessons from implementation in a wide range of environments, using a mix of media based on traditional and new technologies. Questions to be answered Development of pro-poor government policy, such as Poverty Reduction Strategies and Sector-Wide Approaches, will enable institutions and services at regional and local levels to focus on responding to the livelihood opportunities of poor people. However, if these are to be effective, provision of information and knowledge must be relevant and timely. Supported by relevant information, decision makers will need to consider international norms, conventions and protocols, as well as be informed from a regional or global perspective. In the same way, information and knowledge have a role in directly informing individuals about issues which are relevant to their day-to-day activities and livelihoods. Without the combination of these two levels of targeted information, pro-poor economic growth may be less achievable, will be significantly slower, and may not be in ways which are of benefit to the most vulnerable groups. Some of the key questions to be addressed include: What decisions do poor people and southern institutions make which can be improved by information about food and agriculture? How can governments and services use information systems to: - become less “top down” and more interactive? - devolve decision making to lower levels of government? - be more focused on learning? - be more demand driven? How can information be used to increase productivity, profitability and sustainability of livelihoods in rural areas? What mixture and format of information allows best access for different stakeholder groups? What vehicles exist in-country to collect and deliver such information and associated services, including engagement by the private sector and the use of DFID in-country experience? How can rural systems for information exchange be enhanced, based on experience, methods and tools? How can commitment to apply those approaches identified be obtained from stakeholders? What capacity and ways of working therefore need to be developed in FAO to meet these demands? Sustainable livelihoods and information Sustainable Livelihoods Approaches (SLAs) enable poverty reduction through generation of a holistic understanding and analysis of poor peoples' lives and the context in which they live. It puts people and their access to resources, including information, at the centre of development and recognises the importance of macro and micro linkages. SLAs can facilitate the identification of practical priorities for action, and have already identified Information and Knowledge as playing an important role in poverty reduction, particularly in rural areas. To facilitate a common, strategic and people-centred focus and partnership to poverty reduction in the context of sustainable livelihoods approaches (SLA), it is necessary to emphasize the need to address the policies, institutions and processes that determine people’s access to livelihood assets. The crucial issues of demand, local context and impact have to be addressed through appropriate partnerships, to ensure information and knowledge exchange meets the livelihood needs of poor people both directly and indirectly. FAO is currently developing a variety of approaches to reducing poverty through the use of Sustainable Livelihoods principles, including bringing its expertise to bear on improving the processes of information and knowledge exchange. FAO’s capacity in Information for Development FAO is committed to using knowledge management as a tool for effective decision-making through the acquisition, synthesis and sharing of insight and experience, and their systematic integration with factual information and analyses. FAO’s Strategic Framework has five major elements, one of which is to improve decision-making through the provision of information, assessments, and fostering of knowledge management for food and agriculture. FAO is also mandated by its normative constitution to collect, analyse, interpret and disseminate information relating to nutrition, food and agriculture, and is responsible for monitoring the World Food Summit follow-up and assessing progress towards achieving food security for all. The World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT), FAO’s strategic interdisciplinary programme on information management, has an outreach programme which provides a platform for FAO to develop and strengthen knowledge exchange and information systems for stakeholders in Member countries. WAICENT Outreach is closely with the Communications for Development Group (FAO-SDRE), which has gathered considerable experience in developing participatory knowledge exchange systems in rural communities, using a variety of media. FAO’s strength in information management and exchange in a rural context is partly due to its international focus on agriculture and food security. This provides comprehensive and standardised content which can be used either nationally, on a transboundary basis, or globally. FAO's field programme will, as a result of this proposal and FAO's international information mandate, be better placed to address national information needs which support the development and implementation of Sector Wide Approaches and Poverty Reduction Strategies, and learn lessons of experience from a range of locations. A Strategic Programme for Information in support of Sustainable Livelihoods FAO is planning to develop a strategic initiative in this key area, partnering with the UK- DFID and a range of other institutions and organizations. A preparatory project is intended to explore the boundaries of the issues, determining the full scope of existing information resources (and gaps) at the local/national level and within FAO, and how these might best be delivered (or filled) to decision makers at both strategic and local level. Over a period of six months, FAO, in partnership with DFID, will pursue a process of consultation and dialogue with internal and external stakeholders (including representatives of FAO member states), assemble evidence and opinion from centres of international expertise, and commission studies to fill identified gaps in knowledge and understanding. Once demand and appropriate access mechanisms are clearer, a programme of work will be developed and agreed among the principal stakeholders for a 3-5 year period. The main proposal (implementation phase) might link the information and knowledge held as a result of FAO's internationally agreed mandates, with national priorities and capacity, indigenous knowledge, the livelihoods decisions faced by poor rural people, and FAO's regional programmes. It will also aim to stimulate novel exchange mechanisms at the local level using modern technologies.