First reflections on FAO workshop on mobiles & agriculture

Posted on April 4, 2012  /  0 Comments

It has been an intense and productive two days. There will be more than one set of reflections. This is the first, written from the airport on the way out of Bangkok.

We have been worrying about the quality of information supplied to growers and other actors in the supply chains. What if the price information that is supplied is inaccurate, or worse, tampered with by those wishing to corner the market? What if electronically supplied information on applying fertilizer has not taken into account the actual condition of the soil of that particular farm and therefore causes harm?

When I was asked this question in Helsinki, my response was that governments should take responsibility for producing information that had the potential of causing harm. It was not that I was of the view that governments will not make mistakes; but that I thought they could take responsibility and give compensation, unlike a private actor. I was applying the same kind of logic that I applied in holding firm to the principle that governments should have sole responsibility for issuing disaster warnings and evacuation orders.

What I heard at the workshop surprised me. Government officials from country after country described how spot market price information was collected. It seemed very much on the basis of best efforts and without any assurance of quality. The advice given face-to-face re diseases in animals and plants also seemed to be on a best-efforts basis. Some times, cows die. Tough. But no one was to be held accountable.

This places the whole question of quality assurance by government in a new light. If the government does not apply strict quality standards to the information it supplies to participants in agricultural supply chains, how can it apply such standards to private suppliers?

I recall government telecom operators who refused to provide service to rural areas when they had the monopoly, making a big fuss about rural rollout by private operators. Government culture permits this kind of double standard. But that does not mean we should condone it.

But that still leaves open the question of ensuring best possible quality in information supplied by government and private suppliers.

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