AN APPRAISAL OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY (ICT) RESOURCES FOR SUSTAINABLE POVERTY ERADICATION AND DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA BY OJEBISI, A. OLUGBENGA Department Of Curriculum and Instruction Studies, Federal College of Education (Sp. ), Oyo. E-mail: [email protected] com +234-0-8035624949 An Appraisal of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Resources for Sustainable Poverty Eradication and Development in Nigeria Abstract
This paper presents an appraisal of the use of information and communication technology (ICT) resources as veritable tools that fit into the globalization project for sustainable poverty alleviation and development in the world generally and Nigeria in particular. Poverty amid plenty is the greatest challenge facing most African countries, Nigeria inclusive. Men and women in poverty use diverse coping mechanisms conditioned by their access to various support systems. Governments and people around the world have started appreciating the ability of ICT to stimulate rapid development in all sectors of the economy.
ICT is redefining the way we do almost everything and it is a ready tool for all strata of society. They are a “tool for development”, not a “reward for development”. They have the potential to empower billions of people; to enable sustainable development, and enhance human dignity. They can offer new access to education for and by the people even in the most remote regions; bring improved health care; help eradicate poverty, empower men and women, and build sustainable communities.
They can enable self-expression, new knowledge creation and cultural diversity, and continued and sustainable economic growth. They must be harnessed to the goal of globally sustainable development. This paper makes an overall presentation of the role that ICTs resources is playing in poverty eradication and in promoting sustainable development, and discuss other strategies the government and other stakeholders can adopt to make it more effective. Key Words: ICTs, Poverty and Poverty Eradication, and Sustainable Development Introduction
Over the years the role of ICTs, both established (radio, television, video, compact disc) and emerging (wireless, Internet, broadband), as a powerful if not indispensable tool in the massive scaling up and inter-linkage of development interventions and outcomes inherent in this objective has become recognized. ICTs offer enormous opportunities to narrow social and economic inequalities and support sustainable local wealth creation by overcoming obstacles of geographic isolation, lack of access to information and challenges in communication.
Recent developments in technologies, reduction in prices, greater availability of networks and a more user friendly approach to technologies have strengthened these roles. The potential of information as a strategic development resource should be incorporated as a routine element into the development planning process and for poverty eradication. But many people in developing countries like Nigeria especially the poor in rural areas who are still struggling to address their basic human needs, the endemic problem of poverty, illiteracy etc believe that ICTs are making no difference to their lives.
Supported by this finding is the World Bank Report (2005) that states that unlike in other services, ICTs are also failing poor people in many ways. In the light of this, it is imperative that we address the following questions: How and in what ways can ICTs help poor people and those who are socially excluded? How can ICT-based development strategies and policies be made more accountable to the special needs of the disempowered? What are the connections between ICT and the government anti- poverty measures?
What are the areas that are likely to create opportunities for the use of ICTs where they have the maximum potentials to benefit the poor? These questions and some others serve as an impetus for this paper. ICT has the potential to power development and eradicate poverty and is a veritable weapon for promoting human development and accelerating economic growth. According to the UNDP, the socioeconomic impact of the knowledge and information revolution derived from ICT has been compared to the industrial revolution, providing nations and individuals like an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate economic growth, promote human development and eradicate poverty. The Concept of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) The term information and communications technology (ICT) was introduced in the early 1990s to replace that of information technology (IT) in recognition of the communicating abilities and facilities offered by the computer. However, while most people adopted the term ICT, people in higher education used the term communication and information technology (C & IT) to refer to the same concept.
ICTs refer to any electronic means of capturing, processing, storing and disseminating information. ICT is a combination of information technology (IT) and communication technology (CT). The former involves the processing and packaging of information, while the latter is concerned with the interaction, exchange and linkage with information and data bases between users via networking. The coverage of ICT goes beyond such activities as programming, networking and analyzing.
It enables the usage of computers and related tools to enhance the quality of products, labour productivity, international competitiveness and quality of life. The term Information and Communication Technology (ICT) springs from the convergence of telecommunication, computing and broadcasting through the use of digital information. It covers any products that will store, retrieve, manipulate, transmit and receive information electronically in a digital form.
Information and Communication Technology comprehends technologies that can process different kinds of information i. e. voice, video, text, data and facilitates different forms of communications among humans and among information systems. The telecommunication infrastructure plays an important role to boost the development of a country in this information society. The advent of ICT brings all the citizen of this planet close together and has a quicker access to all the information and benefits that the world may have.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) encompasses the broad fields of information and communications by means of computer and telecommunication tools are being increasingly used for organizational/personal information processing in all sectors of economy and the society as a whole. The term ICT covers a whole range of applications, techniques and systems (Clarke, 2006). Lallana and Margaret (2003) clearly opine that ICT “refers to a broad field encompassing computers, communications equipment and the services ssociated with them. ” ICT is not just considered as applications and systems but also as skill for life. In this sense it is regarded in line with literacy and numeracy as a fundamental skill which every individual needs so as to live “confidently, effectively and independently in a modern society (Clarke, 2006). According to the ICT Development Indices Report for 2004, South Asian and African Countries have a considerable way to go in connectivity and ICT diffusion.
This very low level of penetration in developing countries includes a lack of awareness of what these technologies can offer, absence of adequate legal and regulatory frameworks, shortage of requisite human capacity, failure to develop local language content and a lack of entrepreneurship and business culture open to change, transparency and social equality. ICTs are seen as a critical resource in the promotion of socio-economic development, with a potency to alleviate poverty (Gopalakrishna, 2005).
However ICTs should not be seen as a panacea for all development problems. Although multidimensional as ICTs offer the potential to share information across traditional barriers, to give a voice to traditionally unheard peoples, to provide valuable information that enhances economic, health and educational activities, they are particularly effective only when used appropriately as part of an overall development strategy. Contributions of ICTs in the Enhancement of Socio-Economic Livelihood of Nigerians ICTs are often viewed as near-magic solutions to problems.
They are extremely powerful tools that have proven useful in many areas of Nigeria. Traditional media and new ICTs have played a major role in diffusing information to poor living in rural communities. Although little empirical evidences of the benefits of ICTs in Nigeria are found in literatures, there are great potentials of ICTs as tools for enhancing people’s daily lives whether by increasing access to information relevant to their economic livelihood, better access to other information sources; healthcare, transport, distance learning or in the strengthening of kinship.
The result from many studies showed that, the most common of the ICTs related to poverty alleviation programs in Nigeria are telephone and radio. While other commonly uses of traditional media include: Print, video, television, films, slides, pictures, drama, dance, folklore, group discussions, meetings, exhibitions and demonstrations (Munyua, 2000). The use of computers or the Internet is still restricted to very few people living in urban centres.
ICTs have the potential to broaden and enhance access to information and communication resources for remote rural areas and poor communities, to strengthen the process of democratization and to ameliorate the endemic problem of poverty (Norrish, 2000). With the privatization of the Nigeria Telecommunication system, mobile phones are increasingly becoming affordable by average Nigerian (the poor), and they help to overcome rural isolation and make communication easier. The wireless technologies have entered remote rural areas thereby reducing the reliance on costly fixed telephone infrastructures.
In many rural areas, over 50% of households make regular use of the telephone when compared with few years ago when the figure was less than 5%. Such accessible communications are now been used for family contact, reduction of the necessity for trips, access to government services, and much more. Both radio and telephone are now operating in Nigeria regardless of the language spoken and do not require literacy, which helps in explaining the exceedingly high utility and utilization of both.
The Internet-based communications is however found to remain the least effective in majority of the rural areas of Nigeria because the resource thresholds are far higher, typically requiring higher-quality communications, electricity, technology infrastructure, and literacy in a computer-supported language. ICTs are also found as tools that open new opportunities and new threats (often by virtue of each other). They have a far more enabling role in building the capacity of the intermediary institutions that work for poverty, rather than directly affecting poor themselves.
ICTs have the greatest potential to act as a facilitator for specific development initiatives such as the cassava, rice initiative programmes that are currently operational at grass roots in Nigeria. Access to ICTs provides information on prices, markets, technology, and weather to the poor farmers. Community-based telecentres have the potential to empower rural communities and facilitate socio-economic developments in agriculture. It uses selected ICTs (e-mail, Internet, phone, radio, TV, print) to accelerate the wider delivery of appropriately packaged agricultural information and other relevant information useful for the poor.
ICTs offer information and knowledge, which are critical components of poverty alleviation strategies; they make available easy access to huge amounts of information useful for the poor. Through the new technology, particularly networked Internet technologies, anyone can find almost anything. There are fewer secrets, and fewer places to hide. Educated but poor farmers and traders in Nigeria are now promoting their products and handle simple transactions such as orders over the web with payment transactions for goods being handled off-line (O’Farrell, C. , Norrish, P. and Scott, A. 1999). Evidence has also shown that even though trading online is not a common practice by the poor Nigerian; the technology is cheaper and faster than paper-based medium, telephone or fax. Electronic-commerce enables entrepreneurs to access global market information and open up new regional and global markets that fetch better prices and increase earnings. The lack of adequate healthcare is one of the most onerous aspects of poverty. There has been significant focus on using ICTs to actually deliver healthcare (telemedicine) and as a way of educating people on health issues in Nigeria.
For instance, preventive measures of AIDS and current incidents of bird flu and swine flu are communicated to the poor through television, Internet, radio, posters etc. However, there are other uses of technology, which have the potential for revolutionary improvements in the delivery of healthcare. In most cases, the technology is being used in its simplest forms to aid in the collection, storing and retrieval of data and information. ICTs have assisted Nigeria in the reduction of unemployment rates at national, urban and in rural areas of Nigeria.
Through the establishment of rural information centers in most parts of the country, ICTs have created employment opportunities in rural areas by engaging telecentre managers, subject matter specialists, information managers, translators and information technology technicians. Such centers have helped to bridge the gap between urban and rural communities and reduce the rural-urban migration problem. The centers have also provided training and those trained have now become small-scale entrepreneurs in their respective areas.
Thousands of the poor Nigerian has also benefited from telephone service through sales of either accessories or Telephone calls (make calls, receive calls). Sound decision-making is dependent upon availability of comprehensive, timely and up-to-date information. Food security problems facing Nigeria demonstrate the need for informed researchers, planners, policy makers, development workers and farmers. Information is also needed to facilitate the development and implementation of food security policies.
Introduction of mobile phone in Nigeria has helped in transmitting information to and from rural inaccessible areas. ICTs have helped in the empowerment of a number of rural communities in Nigeria and give them “a voice” that permits them to contribute to the development process. With ICTs, many rural communities acquire the capacity to improve their living conditions and become motivated through training and dialogue with others to a level where they make decisions for their own development (Balit 1998).
According to the ILO (2001), ICTs have assisted significantly in socio-economic development of many poor Nigerian. In Nigeria, the ICTs have also helped to impact on the livelihood strategies of small-scale enterprises and local entrepreneurs as well as in the enhancement of various forms of social capital. ICTs initiative is part of existing social interactions; they reduce the friction of space not the importance of place (Hampton 2004).
The technologies have been viewed as part of a complex ecology of communication tools that enable local social interactivity. For instance, the Internet is a tool for maintaining social relations, information exchange, and increasing face-to-face interaction, all of which help to build both bonding and bridging social capital in communities (Kavanaugh and Patterson, 2001). ICT initiatives play a significant role in developing and sustaining local social ties and stronger ties are characterized by broader media usage (Haythornthwaite, 2005).
New ICTs (like computers, satellites, wireless one-on-one communications, including mobile phones, the Internet, e-mail and multimedia) though not commonly used by majority in Nigeria as compared with the old ICTs (like radio, television, land-line telephones and telegraph) and really old ICTs (like newspapers, books and libraries) have the potential to penetrate under-serviced areas and enhance education through distance learning. The new ICTs facilitate development of relevant local content and faster delivery of information on technical assistance and basic human needs such as food, agriculture, health and water.
Farmers can also interact with other farmers, their families, neighbors, suppliers, customers and intermediaries and this is a way of educating rural communities. The Internet can also enable the remotest village to access regular and reliable information from a global library (the web). Different media combinations are used in different cases through radio, television, videocassettes, audiocassettes, video conferencing, computer programmes, print and CD-ROM or the Internet (Truelove 1998).
Rural areas also get greater visibility by having the opportunity to disseminate information about their community to the whole world. ICT and Anti- Poverty Measures in Nigeria ICTs have been used as an integral part within the framework of the government policy plans on poverty alleviations programmes in Nigeria. Most government poverty alleviation programmes through ICT (such as radio, newspaper, mobile phone etc) are now been communicated to the very poor the programmes are meant for.
Monitoring of poverty alleviation programmes, feedback from the beneficiaries/non-beneficiaries is now been done through ICTs such as “radio weekly link programme” “Governors’ monthly charts” etc. At the national, States and local level in Nigeria people can express their views on the performance of government anti- poverty programmes chatting with the president, governors or the local government chairpersons as well as officers directly in charge of the execution of such programmes.
In addition, anti-poverty measures introduced through the use of ICT has been able to generate substantial amount of employment through the use of mobile phone by many Nigerian to sustain a living. In a field survey conducted by Obayelu and Ogunlade (2006) on 50 call centers operators, it was discovered that there are many call centers in villages and towns mostly operated by people between age distributions of between 20-29 years (38%), mostly women with secondary/ post secondary education in Nigeria.
Some of these people run shops for the sale of Global System of Mobile (GSM) accessories as a major form of occupation as means of self-employment as well as a means of sustaining livelihood (80% and 84% respectively). Past studies have shown that over 2,000 persons are directly employed by GSM operators and an estimated of 40,000 Nigerians are benefiting from indirect employment generated by GSM operators in Nigeria (Ndukwe, 2003). ICTs have also assisted in the area of micro-credits finance and cooperatives.
Farmers are now organizing cooperatively to manage their access to market as an alternative to being at the mercy of powerful buyers. Credits are now easily made available to the poor for a better quality of life through such social groups and ICTs. Through the use of ICTs such as the GSM telephone, transaction costs of many Nigerian who are poor have drastically been reduced. People make called before traveling and for business transaction. The technology has led to increase service innovation, efficiency and productivity.
Further Strategies for Effective Use of ICTs for Development ICTs should also be geared towards capacity and capability building. Capacity building seems to vary according to the user, but there appears to be no doubt that ICTs can help achieve it. Capacity building refers to developing an organization’s (or individual’s) core skills and capabilities to help it (him/her) achieve its (his/her) development goals. This definition suits the context of ICTs well as it assumes knowledge of the existence of development goals without which ICTs are unlikely to be of much value.
The full realization of the potential of ICTs requires skills, training, individual and institutional capacity among the users and beneficiaries. But the key question for poverty alleviation seems to be whether ICTs can build the capacity of the poorest people to achieve whatever goals they may have. If you are illiterate, destitute, disabled, malnourished, low caste, homeless and jobless, will ICTs help? The most likely scenario is that these very poor people will receive assistance from organizations and institutions that use ICTs and whose programmes specifically target them as beneficiaries.
ICTs in the form of multimedia community centres/telecentres, especially at the rural level can act as a nodal point for community connectivity, local capacity-building, content development and communications, and serve as hubs for applications, such as distance education, telemedicine, support to small, medium-sized and micro-credit enterprises, promotion of electronic commerce, environmental management, and empowerment of women and youth. Where such services have a pro-ultra-poor strategy, then the benefits of ICTs can be directed to them.
Focusing on the use of ICT alone does not lead to development and sustainable poverty alleviation in Nigeria. However, the most effective route to achieving substantial benefit with ICTs is to concentrate on re-thinking development activities by analyzing current problems and associated contextual conditions, and considering ICT as just one ingredient of the solution. Application of ICTs for poverty should always begin with a development strategy. From that, an information plan can be derived and only out of that should come a technology plan.
In doing this bottom-up, demand-driven should be followed; gender and the poor to be empowered must be allowed to appreciate the needs while they must be alleviated by allowing them to express their developmental needs, that is, they should be allowed to construct their own agenda for ICT-assisted development, prior to introducing the technology. Government should also realize that eliminating the problems that the digital divide represents requires more than the provision of access to technologies.
According to the ILO, ICTs can contribute significantly to socio-economic development, but investments in them alone are not sufficient for development to occur (ILO, 2001). That means that telecommunications is a necessary but insufficient condition for economic development. Application of ICT is a necessary but not sufficient resource to address problems of the poor that mostly reside in the rural areas of Nigeria without adherence to principles of integrated rural development .
So, unless there is minimal infrastructure development in transport, education, health, and social and cultural facilities, it is unlikely that investments from ICTs alone will enable rural poor in Nigeria to cross the threshold from decline to growth. The digital divide then goes beyond access to the technology and can be expressed in terms of multiple dimensions. If Nigeria wishes to share the benefits of access to technology, further provisions have to be implemented in order to address all the dimensions of the digital divide.
These include a variety of societal concerns to do with education and capacity building, social equity, including gender equity, and the appropriateness of technology and information to its socio-economic context. The poor people must understand digital divide and they must be thought to use and have access to ICTs. In order for Nigeria to be economically competitive, politically stable, and socially secure, there is the need to utilize technology in making advances in health, politics, education, business, agriculture, consumer goods, national security and poverty reduction.
The country needs to focus its attention on the development, access, and implementation of ICTs both in the rural area where majority of the poor resides and in the urban centers. Formation of women association, farmer associations and Community-bases organizations at rural areas will act as training centres and access points for ICTs. From such group, the poor will be thought on how to use computers for word processing, making complex calculations and tables of their work plans and income and expenditure.
The access points will also play the role of information centres where price lists, weather forecasts will be available in any form either as print, digital, audio, video form. To achieve these, the following are further recommended: * The problem of technical support can be solved by strengthening the local and regional technical schools and colleges; * The problem of access to electricity in most rural areas of Nigeria and it irregular supply in the Urban centres can be solved through the promotion, generalization and better understanding of the technology of local solar or biofuel supply system.
While the latter can feed a small- scale local alternate current (AC) generator eventually connected to the grid, the solar cell system does not have to feed a storage- inversion system to generate AC; it can feed the computer directly with low- voltage direct current (DC); * There is still need to examine the laws that give rise to or perpetuate poverty.
This will require radical review of ownership of assets, access to social services with particular emphasis on education and health. * Sustainable poverty reduction strategy should not focus narrowly on gender and ICT. They should be seen as essential component of poverty reduction process where both sex are carried along. There is a need to establish women’s clubs and the existing ones strengthen in communication skills and ICTs just as in the case of a group (Self Employed Women’s Association) in India in where the rural women were trained in the production and use of video to generate income, disseminate new skills and to advocate for changes in policy (Balit 1998) * A telecentre that is designed to support community development should be stressed by Nigeria government and in accordance with Collen (2000), it should be aggressive and creative in localizing its knowledge and information resources.
Locations for telecentres must be carefully selected, and should take into consideration the “level of potential demand for communication and information services from a large number and wide range of users”, its proximity to other organisations and institutions, infrastructural considerations and socio-cultural issues (Anderson 1999). The information systems established should be multi-sectoral (agricultural research, extension, training and education, and health). In most rural areas in Nigeria with a greater proportion of the poor and where the infrastructure is not yet developed, the internet could be used from a central point (telecentre) for online broadcasting and for exchanging relevant information to them. * Nigerian governments should formulate national strategies to narrow knowledge gaps, including those for technology acquisition and distribution, education and training and expanding access to technologies through its economic reform of deregulation and privatizations. The present effort of Government through its Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP), now known as Women and Youth Employment Scheme (W-YES) needs to be properly focused to create sustainable employment. * Government must continue with its liberalization policies in the telecommunication sectors to attract more private sector investment in the ICT development and utilization as it has done for the makers of “Zinox” computers. This will make ICT more accessible and cheaply.
The policies must also be consistent, stable, and investment friendly. * The moribund rural telephony project must be resuscitated and doggedly implemented to bring the ICT revolution and its potentials to rural areas where the majority of Nigerians live and work to ensure the country’s survival. Access to information is part of empowerment of the rural masses. * There is the need for the Government to make ICT the hub of the Policy wheel, to link the various sectors and absorb the cost at the initial stage of implementing the Policy. There is a need to extend the monitoring, evaluation and documentation of successful and unsuccessful applications of ICTs for poverty alleviation and to develop models for identifying strategic future investments and programmes. * It is necessary for the Government to encourage locally assembled computers to enable more people to get access to the ICTs at a reasonable cost. * The information needs of various users should be identified in order to develop user-specific, locally sensitive content and applications.
The role of civil society and the private sector become very important in this identification process. It is important for the policy on ICT to take into account training of disadvantaged people to harness their potential for the National interest. * The Infrastructure development of the country should be tackled seriously for decentralization of ICT to take place in all districts to facilitate socio-economic development of the country and alleviate people sufferings. There is the need for the Government to focus on the introduction of ICT into its educational systems from the Basic level to the Tertiary level. The revision of the curriculum of these institutions should be design in such a way as to meet the needs of the country. This will make the children to be used to the use of ICTs and prevent them from entrance into poverty in future through their access to opportunities that can fetch them jobs. * The necessary resources must be available in the educational institutions to facilitate the teaching and learning of ICTs in the country’s institutions. The Government must address in the Policy issues relating to the duties and taxes paid on computers and accessories to make it affordable to most people to spread the literacy rate. * There is the need for the Legal and Regulatory framework to ensure that the telecommunication operators follow required standards and provide quality service to customers. * The general telecommunication facilities in the country must be improved and spread to all the districts, towns and villages in the country since the spread of ICT would rely heavily on this facility. Government through its relevant ministry should develop specific policies on ICTs and ensure equitable access for rural populations to information and ICTs since the sector holds so much potential for poverty alleviation and socio-economic development. Investment and policy structures to stimulate initial demand for ICTs should be put in place. * There is the need to address policy issues relating to Human Resource Development. It is important for all employers to re-train their staff to make them ICT literate and a must for all new employees. There is a need to develop ICT strategies for rural areas taking into consideration differences in languages, culture, socio-economic conditions and infrastructure. There is also a need to encourage the private sector to invest in the design of ICTs appropriate for use in rural areas. * ICT has not been given appropriate attention in the Nigeria yearly budget, to sustain poverty alleviation using ICTs, a portion of revenue from telecommunications should be used to support and promote the expansion of ICT infrastructure in rural areas. * The socio-economic context should be integral to the design of ICT projects.
Local initiatives should be encouraged to explore the opportunities presented by ICTs and incorporate participatory communication and learning processes. * There is the need for a constant and painstaking review of the poverty eradication policies in order to make them relevant to the contemporary realities through the use of ICT. Conclusions: Since ICT has become one of the most important channels through which a nation can impact on its citizens, there is no doubt that it can be used to drive sustainable development and eradicate poverty.
The penchant for ICT usage in ameliorating poverty and in promoting a sustainable development cannot be overemphasized and government in partnership with concerned stakeholders should use every available opportunity to eradicate poverty through the deployment of ICTs and the provision of the right infrastructures to fight the unending scourge of poverty and under-developments. The challenge of using ICT as a tool for development in Nigeria has been a great one. However, we are grateful that the paradigm shift is taking place and we are very hopeful for the future.
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