The government as well as the private sector should concentrate on developing easily accessible mobile applications to help farmers boost farm production and get fair prices, analysts said yesterday.
They also urged the government to take steps to produce cheap smartphones for farmers so they can reap the benefit of advanced technologies.
They spoke at a roundtable on the application of ICT in the agriculture sector, at the office of the Prothom Alo, a Bangla daily, in the capital.
The use of ICT in the agriculture sector is very low in Bangladesh, while many other countries have developed their farm sector riding on new technologies, said Nizam Uddin Ahmed, chief executive officer of Ethics Advanced Technology Ltd, a local software developer.
"We will have to do impressive things in agriculture, as the farmers are the nucleus of the economy."
The government should play the role of a facilitator, said MA Mannan, state minister for finance.
"At the same time, the government should remain alert so that it can intervene at the right time."
He also said the government should look into whether mobile phones could be assembled locally so farmers can buy them at lower prices.
There is no alternative to technology to increase the dwindling contribution of the agriculture sector to the gross domestic product, said Nazrul Islam Khan, ICT secretary.
He said Bangladesh will have to develop smartphone-supported apps as these advanced handsets would dominate the market in future.
Khan said non-government organisations will play their role as key stakeholders in taking the mobile-based services to farmers.
"We have to work together to bring the government, businesses, academia and NGOs on a common platform," he said.
Khan also said Bangladesh would have to create about one lakh IT graduates to develop the sector.
ICT would be the main driver of the economy in the coming days, said Sunil Kanti Bose, chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission.
He said farmers would be able to use information more effectively if those are sent to them electronically.
Universities in the country should emphasise more on innovations as their inventions could change the economy fast, said Prof Miftahur Rahman, dean of the school of engineering at North South University.
Ahmed Al-Kabir, chairman of Rupali Bank, called for partnership among all stakeholders as different agencies are doing the same type of work simultaneously, in order to help develop the agro-based industry and small and medium enterprises.
Kabir, who is also a syndicate member of a university, said agriculture universities are lagging behind in developing their own ICT.
It should be looked into whether farmers are getting value for the money they have spent for getting agriculture information services provided by the mobile operators since 2000, said Shykh Seraj, an award-winning agriculture activist.
He also said very few farmers know about the services provided by the Union Information and Services Centres at Union Parishads, the lowest tier of local government. "Sometimes, the people responsible for running the centres cannot be found," he said, urging the government to launch a subsidised project for taking information services to the farmers.
Seraj said it also has to be seen whether apps chosen by the government cater to the real need of the farmers.
The country will have to utilise the vast network of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) in providing ICT services to farmers, said Rafiqul Hoque, vice chancellor of Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh.
Mobile operators should set aside a portion of their budget under the corporate social responsibility for providing agriculture information services to farmers, said Mujibur Rahman, managing director of Teletalk Bangladesh. Greater emphasis has to be put on data collection and mining to gather knowledge about farming, said M Kaykobad, a professor of computer science and engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
The ICT sector could provide information and data services to farmers and help them trade their produce, said Mahmud Hossain, chief corporate affairs officer at Grameenphone. He also said the government and the private sector should work together in developing contents. "We have to take decisions in a way so the ICT sector can take the lead in 10-15 years," said Shameem Ahsan, president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services.
The ICT sector has created immense scope for ensuring governance and accountability in providing services, said Anowarul Haque, a director of Care Bangladesh.
The use of ICT can wipe out middlemen and help farmers get fair prices for their produce, said TIM Nurul Kabir, secretary general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh.
"We have to ensure that the agriculture sector can thrive further in this era of advanced technology," said MA Mubin Khan, managing director of Ethics Advanced Technology.
Abdul Quayum, associate editor of the Prothom Alo, who moderated the discussion, said investment and financial services would be needed to take e-commerce to farmers.