* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The divide is particularly large in Africa, where men are twice as likely to use internet than women, data shows
Andre Laperriere is the Executive Director of the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), an organisation propagating open data polices in agriculture and nutrition to tackle food security and end world hunger.
There is no doubt that Open Data democratizes knowledge. It empowers people to make better decisions such as reducing costs, increasing their income, safeguarding precious natural resources and ensuring that industries can flourish. For this to happen, society needs to overcome the current digital divides. These current divides exist in three forms and are the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the internet and those who do not. This includes access to technology, the sophistication of the technology and those who possess the skills to use it. As a result, it is greatly damaging the chances of success for millions around the world, especially in Africa, a continent which relies heavily on the farming and agriculture sectors for its 1.2 billion citizens. Therefore, it is important to understand, what these divides are and how they can be addressed, which if executed successfully could see Africa optimise its economic and social progress.
The First Digital Divide
The first digital divide is the most common factor we think of when it comes to technology. This is where more economically advanced countries have greater access to technology, which in turn, further advances their economic systems. Although this was increasing the gap between the developing and developed countries not too long ago, this advancement in products and accessibility to them has led to the cost of technology drastically falling, and a new generation of young, more educated, tech-savvy individuals are now mastering technology, leading to wider adoption.
Coming back to agriculture, farmers in the west have largely benefited from these low cost advancements, while this is yet to reach the farmers in developing countries. Naturally, most development work is focused on bridging the first divide.
The Second Digital Divide
Due to factors such as cost and sustainability, farming on a larger scale has been more efficient than farming on a small scale. This is the current reality for 90% of the world’s farmers who make do with 4 hectares or less, or the 80% that must make do with half that.
The second digital divide manifests here - farmers from developing countries, and particularly those operating under a low economy and scale, do not have the equal means to access information and technology resources available to large scale famers. There is some development work focused on bridging this divide.
The Third Digital Divide
The final digital divide is often the most ignored and disregarded and that is gender. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that women make up anywhere between 70%–90% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, but are at the bottom of the socio-economic and technology ladder.
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), it was estimated that by the end of 2013, 40 percent of the world's inhabitants were using the internet, double what it was little more than a decade ago. Yet progress has not reached everyone in the same way during this period. For instance, despite having the highest growth in internet penetration across the globe, Africa remains the only continent whose digital gender gap has widened and according to ITU men are twice as likely to use internet than women.
Going forward, it is important that respective governments within Africa introduce the correct national policies required for an equitable, inclusive and performing economy. However, it must be emphasized that policies can only go so far. We need the right tools to support them and this means that technology will be a key driver in this.
What is clear, is that the digital divide will only widen if key figureheads do not look at other ways to address the issue sooner rather than later. Technology has opened many doors and empowered millions of people to drive their societies forward and Africa has been no exception to this. But more needs to be done. No country can expect 100% performance if more than half its population is insufficiently equipped.