Bridging the digital divide in Latin America and the Caribbean requires public policies aimed at expanding capabilities and infrastructure in rural areas
San Jose, 22 February 2021 (IICA). To reduce the digital divide in Latin America and the Caribbean and foster the development of rural areas, it is crucial to establish cross-cutting public policies and strategies that involve all State entities, private enterprises and civil society; that foster greater investment in telecommunications infrastructure; and that guarantee connectivity, access to technologies and the required digital literacy.
These were a few of the conclusions reached by international specialists during the second virtual forum of the series of webinars entitled “Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural Areas of Latin America and the Caribbean: Towards a Digital Agricultural Revolution”, organized by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). The most recent session focused on discussing “Public Policies to Overcome the Digital Divide”.
“Digital technologies are, at present, the technological heart of society. We must improve the deployment of telecommunications infrastructure and internet access in all rural areas, providing them with equipment that goes beyond just computers or tablets, and enhancing their digital literacy to guarantee the most productive use possible of these tools”, stated Paola Vega, Minister of Science, Technology and Telecommunications of Costa Rica.
She added that the Central American country was seeking to expand technology use and improve digital literacy to attract young people, through initiatives such as the Fab Lab laboratory for technological innovation in agriculture, established together with IICA, as well as smart community and educational centers. Vega described youth as “the catalysts for the digital transformation that agriculture requires” and noted that technology could facilitate generational renewal in the sector.
The panelists agreed that countries in the region would face fiscal restrictions as a result of the pandemic and the global economic contraction; consequently, it would be necessary to come up with creative, affordable and low-cost solutions to support the necessary digitalization of agriculture and rural territories through policies and strategies.
They also agreed that, in order to develop new legislation, it would be crucial to capitalize on local community leadership, community participation and local resources, as this would allow for reducing costs as well as increasing the quality and potential impact of policies. Digital technologies would also facilitate efforts in this regard.
“More and more, we will have to make do with fewer resources, but we must be effective. Businesses and civil society must be the main driving forces behind the digitalization process, with support and guidance from the State. This is key to reducing the digital divide, exchanging information, and developing endogenous, low-cost solutions that improve production and combat rural poverty”, remarked Fernando Schwanke, Secretary of Family Farming and Cooperativism of Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply.
During the forum, it was stated that 80% of telecommunications infrastructure is developed by the private sector. Furthermore, it was indicated that an investment of USD 161 billion until 2025 would be necessary in order for 4G coverage in Latin America to reach 95% of the population and for 65% of households to be covered by fiber optics, thereby demonstrating the vital importance of intersectoral synergies.
“Companies play a pivotal role in driving this transformation process, which also involves technology centers, universities and the field of science. Coordination between various stakeholders is necessary to take advantage of cross-cutting aspects and to achieve our objectives, leaving no one behind”, explained Rocío Wojski, Deputy Director General for Innovation and Digitalization of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPA) of Spain, who described the Ministry’s digitalization strategy in support of agriculture and rural areas. In Spain, 78% of rural households have an internet connection.
During the virtual event, the Director of Infrastructure in the Ministry of Technology, Information and Communication of Colombia, Camilo Jiménez, presented the 2018-2021 ICT Plan to bridge the digital divide in his country. He noted that cost is one of the main obstacles that hinders access to internet services; as a result, the country has implemented a series of projects to facilitate this access.
“Through our Zonas Digitales Rurales project, we have introduced 1,550 solutions, providing 24-hour public internet access points and high-quality connectivity in heavily frequented locations. At the same time, we have established the largest rural connectivity program in the history of the country, entitled “Centros Digitales”. This is a program in which we will roll out 14,745 connectivity solutions, 98% of which will be installed in official rural educational institutions and centers”, explained Jiménez.
With respect to 4G mobile internet coverage, he advised that the plan is to move from 9.7% to 80% coverage in rural areas, which are territories in which only 20% of the homes have internet access.
Also participating in this second forum were Octavio Sotomayor, Economic Affairs Officer in the Agricultural Development and Biodiversity Unit at ECLAC; José Emilio Guerrero, Coordinator of the Inter-University Doctoral program in Agricultural, Food, Forestry and Sustainable Rural Development Engineering at the University of Córdoba, Spain; and Maryleana Méndez, Executive Director of the Inter-American Association of Telecommunication Enterprises (ASIET).
To access further information on the series of hemispheric forums or to tune in to the transmission of the third session, “Experiences in Digital Agriculture”, on 23 February at 9:30 a.m. Costa Rica time (-6 GMT), please click on the following links:
Emmanuel Picado, Manager of IICA’s Information and Communication Technologies and Digital Agriculture Division.