Since the beginning of the information revolution many applications of the internet and related technologies have been sought and deployed in virtually all fields of human endeavour Today we talk about e-commerce , e-banking, e-governance even e-voting. These are well known applications that have tremendously changed the way we do things. The agriculture sector is not an exception to the new wave sweeping across the world. One can easily picture e-commerce as doing business online, e-banking as making financial transactions using the world wide web but when you talk of e-agriculture could it be growing plants and animals online or what? It really sounds funny! According to Anton Mangstl, Director of the Library and Documentation Systems Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), e-agriculture is an emerging field within agricultural informatics, agricultural development and business. It refers to agricultural services and information delivered or enhanced through the internet and related technologies. E-agriculture, therefore, involves the conceptualization, design, development, evaluation and application of innovative ways to utilize existing or emerging information and communications technologies (ICTs).The ICTs used in e-agriculture include mobile phones, digital personal assistants (PDAs), smart cards, CD-ROM, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), radio, Radio-Frequency Identification Devices(RFID), imaging and acoustic technologies, websites and weblogs, and email-based information services.E-agriculture was one of the elements covered at the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) Plan of Action in 2003 and since then many African and Caribbean countries have harnessed different ICTs and combination of ICTs to improve the practice the practice of agriculture among their farmers as well as increase the income of farmers. This has often translated into higher standards of living among the population involved in agriculture.Innovative applications of the ICTs can be used for: mapping natural resources, using participatory approaches to empower local communities to manage their own resources; creating business opportunities by providing agricultural market information for farmers and traders; speeding up application procedures in agricultural credit programmes; protecting natural resources, such as fish stocks and forest resources from illegal poachers and loggers; forecasting weather conditions and pest outbreaks; making information more easily available; and enabling communication and knowledge exchange in online communities.Success stories about e-agriculture abound across Africa and the Caribbean. For instance, in Senegal an agricultural market information system under the name 'Xam Marse' has been in operation since 2001. With Xam Marse, Senegalese farmers, traders, hoteliers and housewives can receive real-time information via SMS messages on their mobile phones or the web on the prices and availability of fruit, vegetables, meat and poultry on any of Senegal's markets. This innovation affords farmers a fair price for their farm produce, thus raising the net income of farmers by up to four times.
Pastoralists in the Sahel have put e-agriculture into beneficial use in making the best out of a serious situation of shrinking vegetation cover under a project known as ‘Sustainable Management of Pastoral Resources in the Sahel', also referred to as the Cyber Shepherd Initiative. The aim of the project is to enable Sahelian pastoralists to access accurate information on grazing lands in order to help them coordinate their movements and protect land and water resources during the dry season. This project involved the production of GIS-based thematic maps of seasonal movements of livestock in the pastoral units. In each pastoral unit, herders were taught to read and to prepare geographic maps using GIS devices. These are valuable tools for monitoring the movements of herds and for accury pinpointing outbreaks of livestock diseases and bush fires. They were also provided with the means to compile inventories of water and other resources. Several herders were equipped with mobile phones to speed up the exchange of information and give them early warning in the case of impending disasters. With this project in place pastoralists can obtain real-time information on the status of grazing areas and their ‘carrying capacity' that is the number of animals that can be pastured there during the dry season without risk to the environment and its resources. In Honduras agricultural extension workers can now offer technical advice, deliver recommendations and solve farmers problems on site (on farm) thanks to e-agriculture. Armed with computer laptops, Global Positioning System devices (which are used to map farm boundaries, topography, and irrigation systems), digital cameras, portable printers, cell phones, portable weather stations, and floppy disk drives, technical assistance is given to farmers right on the spot. This is an improvement on the traditional technical assistance programmes where field staff record information and deliver it a week later after returning to their office. As a result of the use of ICTs over 5000 small farmers have received direct services with emphasis on improving production and post-harvest systems, market linkages, and infrastructure.It is evident that from the success stories of the less developed countries cited earlier that e-agriculture, is another important and potent way of enhancing agriculture and rural development. It is all about harnessing and optimizing already existing ICTs