Next week starts a two-week-long virtual forum on mobile telephony in rural areas, put together by the FAO through the e-agriculture initiative. The forum brings together people from all around the world to dicuss the potential of mobile phones particularly for rural development, but probably also various other topics around this all-purpose tool. I have been invited to join as one of the subject matters experts – not so sure what exactly this means, but I am looking forward to discussing the topic during the next two weeks on the virtual forum. If you are interested please join the dicussion.

I am glad to be able to participate in this interesting forum on mobile phone topics. From the ICT4D perspective, I believe mobile phones have a great potential for various reasons. However, I think mobile phones for development are in the midst of a hype, and some enthusiasts hope mobiles would be the solution to everything. But I do believe that there is also the danger of forgetting some important lessons learnt from many ICT4D projects, which failed for a lot of reasons. One was the lack of sustainability, and another, that mobile phones can only be a mean to an end. And of course, there are many challenges that the use of mobile phone faces: high costs, illiteracy and in many cases, mobile phones projects still have to prove the benefit for users. Do not get me wrong, I am very enthusiastic about the contributions of mobile phones to social change, but mainly because equally to the social web, it is the users themselves who drive the innovation. They apply, hack and adapt existing technologies for their own needs.

Here is a little descriptive text for the virtual forum. I am sure many interesting topics around mobile phones will be discussed. Particularly, rural areas are in my opinion interesting because mobile phones make them reachable like never before, being it for communication or data exhange.

Mobile phones are the success story of bridging the rural digital divide, bringing tangible economic benefits and acting as agents of social mobilization through improved communication. But what are the real challenges that face reaching rural areas, and what are some of today’s most beneficial applications that can help these rural communities, specifically regarding agriculture development?

This Forum will examine the challenges that rural communities face in enhancing the benefits of mobile telephony, and look at some examples of interesting initiatives and good outcomes from around the globe.

Virtual forums website