Turning difficult-to-access irrigation pumps on and off with a mobile phone sounds like science fiction for some farmers—too futuristic to be true. Ditto for the fantasy of eliminating the middleman from complex, graft-ridden distribution chains, which would ultimately enable farmers to get better prices for their products. But with new information and communication technologies (ICT) for agriculture and rural development, the future has arrived. Mobile devices have already increased efficiency in smallholder agriculture. Now, even more sophisticated ICT applications are emerging, including remote and satellite technologies for food traceability, sensory detection, real-time reporting, and status updates from the field.

ICT unlocks critical opportunities for the agriculture sector, which accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s workforce, along with a large proportion of developing country exports. Improving yields, productivity, and incomes in rural areas is important to solving the food security puzzle. Solutions like Nano Ganesh—the mobile irrigation switch—and eChoupal—kiosks connecting farmers directly with buyers—are transformational tools that deliver better services to farmers and herders in developing countries. Readers can find more information in the World Bank Group’s ICT in Agriculture eSourcebook.

The private sector has a significant role to play matching private technology and public funding to create and design innovative solutions. The Sri Lankan mobile phone application eDairy is a good example of this collaboration. eDairy, aimed at expanding cows’ milk production through increased pregnancy rates, builds on research that shows that an increase in pregnancy rates can be achieved by having timely access to veterinary services. With eDairy, farmers access databases and request veterinary services directly. The government-owned ICT Agency of Sri Lanka provided 50 percent of the start-up funding, and a grassroots community development organization is providing the technology and operational management.

Unlike technology tools in other sectors, ICT applications for agriculture and rural development have not followed a typical top-down, roll-out approach. The most successful have been designed locally to answer specific challenges in target markets. In many cases, content is created by factoring in the local language, crop, and farming method. With such useful ICT resources, the future has arrived.