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Introduction

New ICTs have irrevocably altered the world we live in – accelerating the pace and volume of innovation and fundamentally changing the way we transmit, receive, adapt and use knowledge and information and contributing to changes in markets, production methods, governance, and social relations.

However, the “information revolution” has not spread to the world's one billion rural poor and while Internet use overall has been growing rapidly in Latin America, there are virtually no users among disadvantaged rural populations. Even when available, effective use of the Internet is impeded by low literacy rates, low education levels, linguistic barriers and a general lack of relevant and contextualised content for improving rural livelihoods.

For people in rural Latin America, it is an older ICT  – broadcast radio – that connects them to their community and to the world. Radio is the most pervasive, accessible and flexible communication medium. Local radio stations are close to their communities, trusted and have intimate knowledge of their communities’ problems and capacities. When provided with access to the Internet and with the knowledge to make effective use of that access, these radio stations can be extraordinary “intermediaries”, bringing global knowledge to the most remote communities.

Experiments in Latin America and elsewhere have sought to exploit the potential of the radio/Internet combination to make more knowledge, information and communication available to the millions of people who do not access the Internet but do have radio receivers and local radio stations.[1] Some of these use the Internet as an accessible platform for sharing information among stations. Others use the Internet as a research tool for radio programming; enabling stations to serve as a sort of people's gateway to the Internet – a particularly promising application for rural areas, where libraries and other local sources of information that could contribute to food security and development are inadequate. Still others have built new facilities and transformed themselves from radio stations to community multimedia centres.

To date few of these experiments have been designed to meet the specific needs of rural communities. With La Onda Rural : Radio, NTIC y desarrollo rural, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), in cooperation with the Asociación latinoamericana de educación radiofónica (ALER) and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), aims to put the radio/new ICT combination on the agenda of rural radio stations, their networks, ICT for development specialists and policy makers. The main components of the project are research focusing on four key themes: content, networks, capacity building and rural communication policy and a regional workshop bringing together sixty to seventy rural communication experts and practitioners.

The project proposals, strategies, and policy proposals will be practical and sustainable and will contribute to the strengthening of existing networks of radio stations, injecting them with both an interest in the use of new ICTs and a renewed emphasis on using the technologies to overcome poverty and isolation in rural and disadvantaged communities

These invigorated networks, with ongoing monitoring and support by FAO, will ensure follow-up and guidance on recommendations and proposals in the period leading up to the WSIS summit in November 2005.

Because the project has both immediate and medium-term outputs, rural communities will begin to benefit almost immediately as their radio stations’ more effective use of new ICTs is translated into programming that better serves their information and communication needs. This very concrete benefit will be added to as stations adopt new innovative practices and as the proposals for networked information and networked capacity come online and as other proposals contribute to even more effective use of technologies and a more enabling policy environment.

The results of the workshop will also be widely disseminated as a book and electronically and input to various policy forums such as FAO’s Latin American region ministerial level conference in 2004 and the World Summit on the Information Society.


[1] For examples see the case studies in the book The One to Watch: Radio, ICTs and Interactivity. Available online at www.comunica.org/1-2-watch.

 

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