Yesterday I participated in two panel discussions at the Sri Lanka Internet Governance Forum 2017. IGFs are primarily intended to permit an exchange of ideas among public, private and civil society stakeholders, helping to make the overall process of governance better.
Government was represented on both panels as was the private sector. The audience was not the most informed or energetic, but that was possibly because the organizers conducted proceedings in English.
In the first panel the theme was SDGs. The usual thing at these kinds of events is for various ICT activists to bemoan the exclusion of their favorite issue from the SDG/MDGs. I had thought the UN had gone mad by expanding the list to 17 Goals and 169 targets, but it was only yesterday I appreciated how hard their task had been. It was not only ICTs that had been proposed in New York, but even “indigenous medicine.”
When I mentioned that our government had prioritized some of the SDGs (list in slides), one young panel member expressed her displeasure. I am all for prioritization because otherwise there can be no meaningful progress.
Anyway, my view is that ICTs were correctly excluded from the list of SDGs, because now ICTs are in everything, and nothing can succeed without ICTs, but ICTs alone will not solve anything.
To illustrate this point, I talked about the role of ICTs in making progress on SDG2: food security. This is a priority for the government of Sri Lanka too.
I talked about the central planning solution that was highly dependent on ICTs and said it will fail because the incentives did not exist for farmers to give accurate information about what they intended to plant and that in any case, they would not allow the government functionaries to prevent them from growing what they wanted to grow on their own land.
This led to the moderator of the panel who was deeply involved in designing the said database to intervene. He said that the problem of ensuring the accuracy of the information could be addressed by additional ICT applications such as satellite images. I pointed out that we still did not have ICTs that could read the farmers’ minds BEFORE they planted because there was no way of reducing supply of a particular crop AFTER it had been planted, short of extreme measures such as jailing farmers. Central planning in its pure form tried that kind of approach but it did not work.
So anyway, we had a robust exchange of views on an important issue. Hopefully, it will make some impact on the current policies of shoveling good money after bad in building a production database for agriculture.