Finn Ole Semrau (Kiel Institute, RA “Knowledge Creation and Growth”)
Digital technologies create opportunities to decrease information asymmetries and to promote rural development in developing countries. For instance, extension services can use communication and information technology (ICT) based approaches to increase the number of recipients and frequency of communication, making up-to-date agricultural information available at any time. This could accelerate agricultural development and benefit smallholder farmers in rural developing countries. The realisation of these potentials depends on the right people getting the information at the right time. However, ICT adoption rates in rural developing countries lack behind the rest of the world, while internet access is markedly lower for women, less educated, less agriculturally diversified and poorer households. We argue that having strong social ties, a key source of agricultural information, boost a household's probability of acquiring internet access (usually through mobile devices). Accordingly, households with few social ties, which we denominate as information outsiders, are less likely to have internet access compared to households with strong social ties, denominated as information insiders. We use data of more than 14,000 farm households from 13 developing countries to show that outsiders face information asymmetries because of limited social ties and lower probability of accessing information through ICT. In addition, external advice through extension agents or training does not fill this gap, because well-connected insiders are also more likely to receive external advice. Summarising, ICT bears the risk to increase existing inequalities by keeping those that are already most excluded behind. Development programmes that are aware of this limitation can counteract by strengthen the effort to target on information outsiders.
Linda Kleemann (IfW, GFA Consulting Group), Finn Ole Semrau (IfW, Kiel Centre for Globalization)