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ICTs and poverty reduction in rural Java: information, access and markets

By Alex James Robinson


Towards the end of the twentieth century there was a furore of activity and interest regarding the potential of information communication technologies (ICTs) to contribute towards a process of development. The growing interest in ICT for development (ICT4D) resulted in a World Summit held over two stages in 2003 and 2005 and a plethora of initiatives and interventions. However to date, the mechanisms and ways in which ICTs may best be applied to development, and in particular poverty reduction, remain unclear. The study described herein contributes to this debate. The study is concerned with the analysis of a single ICT based intervention in rural Java in the Republic of Indonesia; the e-Pabelan telecentre project. The objective of e-Pabelan was to overcome information asymmetries and improve the market participation of poor rural farmers. The objective of this study is to analyse the impacts of this intervention and its underlying conceptual basis.\ud \ud In order to facilitate the research a conceptual framework is presented that draws on Richard Heeks’ (1999b) concept of the information chain and Stuart Plattner’s (1985) concept of equilibrating markets.\ud After Heeks, the conceptual framework emphasises that the assimilation and application of information towards a desired development outcome is a staged process. In order to better contextualise and understand such a process the research presents an analysis of actors, goods and\ud transactions in relation to the market relations of poor farmers after Plattner. The research consists of an extended case study. Two key survey instruments are also employed. One is a survey of 216 poor households and the other is a survey of 70 poor farmers. These survey instruments are employed within a broader research context that utilises participant observation, informal interviews and occasional participatory rural appraisal (PRA) instruments. The research emphasises the importance of contextualisation in seeking to better understand the application of ICT based intervention towards\ud poverty reduction.\ud \ud The research highlights issues of access within ICT4D and challenges approaches that see ICT4D as\ud universally applicable and relevant. Instead, the research demonstrates that the institutional context that ICT4D initiatives are placed into and implemented through can have significant bearings on the perceived utility of the intervention by the intended beneficiaries. The research shows that a failure to engage with local contexts during the establishing of access to ICTs can result in such initiatives being disempowering rather than empowering. The research also questions conceptualisations of\ud poverty within ICT4D that emphasise the widening of opportunities over and above the increasing of\ud security. With regard to markets the research demonstrates that the received view not uncommon\ud within ICT4D literature of the farmer as a passive victim of impersonal markets is flawed. The research shows that the way in which poor farmer in Java manage risk through their selection of differing crops and the manner in which these farmers play the market is central to understanding how ICT4D interventions are assessed in terms of utility and relevance.\ud \ud The research concludes that there is a need for greater engagement between the emerging field of\ud ICT4D and the broader field of development studies. There is also a need to better contextualise and target ICT4D interventions in relation to the specific needs and conditions of the intended beneficiaries. Such an approach requires acknowledging that the adoption and application of information will be subject to a process of continual assessment; rather than seeing assessment as a separate stage within the information chain. In this regard a framework for the analysis of market based ICT4D interventions seeking to impact upon poverty is developed via the research from the original conceptual framework outlined above

Topics: H1, HB, HG, ZA4050
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