LIRNEasia wishes to understand how the capabilities of information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be leveraged to create the conditions for hitherto excluded groups to participate in new economic opportunities in global supply chains in agriculture and services. Here we give primacy to participation as producers of value, rather than as mere consumers. Building on the insights that application of knowledge to productive processes and articulation with global supply chains are critical to increased productivity leading to economic growth, LIRNEasia seeks to make available agricultural research-based knowledge on better farming practices for high-value crops, including on disease avoidance and remediation. New techniques that disaggregate and make available small components of larger business-process outsourcing (BPO) tasks reduces transaction costs and helps manage quality concerns in ways that allow for greater participation by the less qualified and by those who are, for various reasons, excluded from the conventional forms of employment in the BPO sector.
In the case of agricultural supply chains, LIRNEasia has negotiated with the Sri Lanka Department of Agriculture to make open, and allow the digitization of, a valuable stock of paper-based information currently used as a resource when answering questions that come through on an agriculture hotline. Other sources of information LIRNEasia can access, such as fertilzer availability, weather data, irrigation water availability will also be digitized. The digitized information will then be delivered to farmers in the form of apps embedded in smartphones. A baseline and endline survey conducted over two crop cycles on a select sample of farmers will allow for an assessment or the impact of the open data delivered via the app. The proposed research fills a lacuna by examining the impact of high-quality knowledge delivered via smartphone to the farmer when she/he needs it. The work builds on prior work and has the cooperation, and indeed the manifest demand, of key actors including the Lanka Fruit and Vegetable Producers, Processors and Exporters Association and the Department of Agriculture on the supply side.
The ability to use ICTs to break up and reconstitute tasks that are being outsourced and also to communicate with and pay large numbers of small producers, thereby reducing transaction costs is the focus of the BPO component. Micro work has attracted some research attention, but we believe this is the first systematic study of success and failure factors with a focus on opportunities being created for women and youth.
In addition, a small component of the work will involve systematic improvement of the education components of measures that assess readiness to participate in the information society. The current indicators are quite rudimentary and give no weight to quality and to factors specific to the sector. This work conducted in relation to a small number of countries will, if successful, be extended to more countries and could contribute to the improvement of composite information society indices.