Technology for African agriculture: more than just a text message

In fact, the take-over of the technology agenda by the cell phone and SMS promoters was so complete that we were asked to believe that the ‘know how’ and ‘how to’ of African agriculture could be reduced to a series of ‘practices’ to be pushed out through SMS messaging or accessed by one mobile platform or another.

My argument here is not with the potential value of mobile telephony or related communications technologies. Rather it is with the overly simplistic conceptions of agricultural technology and the processes by which it changes, which seem to underpin both private and public efforts promote agriculture revolution in Africa via SMS.

One of the hard won battles of the last three decades was the understanding that when it comes to agricultural intensification and technical change, context and fine-grained differences matter tremendously. Thus, the real challenge is to harness the undoubted power of mobile communication technology without losing sight of the fact that agriculture in all its forms is a socio-technical undertaking par excellence. Without a nuanced and situated appreciation of the complex dynamics of technology development and use in African agriculture, the much heralded gains from the spread of information technology may prove to be little more than pipe dream.

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Photo: CIAT Kisumu 12 by CIAT on Flickr