Point of View: Dr Meklit Chernet reflection on the ICT4D 2019 conference

Point of View: Dr Meklit Chernet reflection on the ICT4D 2019 conference

The 11th Information Communications Technology for Development (ICT4D) was held between April 30, and May 3, 2019, in Kampala Uganda. The conference brought together key stakeholder in information technology and research across the globe to share and reflect on the innovation and experiences of applying digital technology to development.

IITA’s Associate Data Scientist Dr. Meklit Tariku Chernet represented ACAI. Meklit made a presentation on how ACAI is combining innovative data management tools with prediction models and machine learning to deliver site-specific recommendations to smallholder farmers.

Meklit shared her experience at the conference:

What was the most outstanding aspect of the conference from the presentations and innovations at the conference?

The conference was mainly about ICT as an efficient tool to collect data and make information available to users, mainly in humanitarian help, agriculture, education, and health sectors. In doing so, a large emphasis was given to the difference between digitization and digitalization which I found to be an interesting concept. While digitization is making information digital involving all the hardcore back-end and front-end programming, digitalization is about empowering people to make use of digital technologies. Which is to say digitization is only the first step of digitalization. I like this concept because it highlights the enormous effort of making information available digitally which is evident based on the number of apps on agriculture, health, education, etc. flooding the Technosphere. If this effort is not matched with the capacity building to make the target population able to use them, I am afraid we will miss the digital revolution as we did the green revolution in Africa. There were other interesting discussions about creating a system to register and to get users feedback to develop ‘ranking’ of digital tools based on the friendliness and usefulness of information to guide users on finding the right digital tool for their use. If ICT for development is to be successful, an overarching body between developers and users is necessary to protect users by providing them with feedback from peers as well as to give higher visibility for digital solutions with quality information.

The other thing I really liked about the conference was there were people from different sectors and positions and that gives me an opportunity to network and to learn how technology is being evaluated by these different profiles.

Based on what ACAI was presenting at the conference, how do you now perceive the project in terms of innovation and integrating ICT to agricultural research in comparison to other presentations?

Well, I think ACAI is different in many aspects. It is unique in the groundwork that goes into generating site-specific recommendations. I saw several digital tools developed to bring information to users but mostly the packaged information was general knowledge and blanket recommendations which by the way is correct only on average. Most participants found the Agronomy at scale for a tailored recommendation well thought and a very sound platform that can be scaled to other agricultural research areas. Since the need for the tailored recommendation was already being discussed by private ICT sectors, ACAI was a good demonstration of what IITA/CGIAR are working on and it was an eye-opener for some to know where to search the information they need.

What is your take-home lesson from the conference?

I was very amazed at how many digital tools are out there and the diverse the packaging formats used to reach the end user. There are brilliant people doing all sort of things and in areas, Africa needs most. It was beautiful to see it is becoming easier for our society to access information that will help them to make smarter decisions and use their resources wisely. One thing that worried me was how uncoordinated the effort is. In this way, we are duplicating efforts and making it difficult for users by offering them with too many choices without any quality matrix to evaluate digital tools.