Information and Communication Technology (ICT) offers an excellent opportunity for economic growth in a developing country like Ghana.
ICT, as an enabler, has the capability to enhance economic growth by impacting all sectors of the economy if adopted and utilised appropriately. ICT can help citizens take advantage of economic opportunities by removing obstacles such as geographic isolation, high prices of goods and services, lack of information and exclusion. ICT can also offer a voice to the marginalised and help create social capital.
In Ghana, a significant number of our villages are cut-off due to the poor transportation network. Professionals such as teachers and doctors, therefore, refuse postings to these remote villages. ICT can be used to surmount this challenge of remoteness. Today, the use of telephony services to exchange information has removed the need for expensive travel on our dangerous roads. Presently, mobile money services are even in villages without banks making it possible for rural farmers to transact business with partners in the cities without having to travel. ICT ensures that time and distance is no longer a barrier for taking up economic opportunities. ICT also offers potential solutions in the area of e-health and e-learning for the adequate doctor and teachers respectively. E-medicine has the prospect of making quality health care available to citizens leaving in remote areas. Furthermore, crowdsourcing offers huge opportunities in the area of e-governance and the execution of government business. The internet offers a possibility for rural communities to make use of experts who can work remotely.
Nowadays, it is common is see adverts on facebook both from small business and retailers. Small businesses and retailers are adverting goods and services ranging from food to entertainment and are willing to deliver to your doorstep. Mobile telephony and internet services have led to access to market information thereby increasing the transaction capability of consumers. This has increased competition and reduced prices usually paid by consumers. The evolution of social media presents huge opportunities in the area of digital marketing, not only for large corporations but also, for small businesses with limited working capital. Increased access to market information will continue to further reduce prices.
Lack of market information does not only lead to high prices for consumers. It also leads to low prices for producers while middlemen enjoy all the benefits. In Ghana, most of our farmers live in rural areas far away from city centres where their produce eventually end up. In the past, lack of access to market information and lack of capacity for post-harvest processing forced farmers to sell their produce at low prices. The internet and mobile phone services provide a solution that can change this situation.
Esoko, a social enterprise working in the agriculture sector, uses mobile technology to provide real-time market information to farmers which aids in negotiating for better prices. In addition, Tulaa, a subsidiary of Esoko, offers an innovative mobile money service that allows farmers to save and borrow money to purchase inputs for their farming. Tulaa has created a virtual marketplace by bringing players in the agriculture ecosystem together in a novel way that support rural farmers with farm inputs and financing. ICT provides the potential of a virtual marketplace in different areas such as manufacturing and IT that transcends geographical location.
One of the obstacles to taking up economic opportunities is the poor land tenure system in Ghana.
Though technology cannot be a substitute for the law and a smartphone cannot replace a land title, it can help provide evidence of the specific individuals who live on a particular piece of land. A smart phone equips with GPS app can facilitate the validation of land title. It is now common is to receive notifications on your phone when paying for your prepaid electricity. Water and electricity payments notification on a mobile phone can also serve as evidence in determining the owner of the title to a piece of land or property.
ICT tools such as SMS and social media that we take for granted are been used daily to demand accountability from political leaders. With these tools, citizens are contributing to radio and TV discussion. They are also been used to organise people to work towards specific goals that will bring about socio-economic change. We also take for granted our ability to stay in touch with our friends and family using ICT while taking up economic opportunities in different parts of the globe. However, these tools help us to maintain strong family ties which are crucial to our mental and physical health.
But what do all these mean to a developing country such as ours? All stakeholders such as start-ups, corporations, non-governmental organisations, central and local governments, educational institutions, etc. must work together to take advantage of the enormous opportunities that ICT presents for developing Ghana. This is especially important in the areas of agriculture, healthcare, education, tourism, etc. In agriculture, for instance, there is the need to encourage the virtual marketplace to include processing, transportation and storage and to extend it to include our neighbouring countries. In healthcare, e-medicine can help in the efficient utilisation of the few doctors we have so that rural patients gain access to quality diagnosis.
Furthermore, e-learning can help improve access to quality education. Finally, virtual reality offers the opportunity to give potential tourists who cannot visit Ghana, an exciting experience that will bring in revenue. However, all this cannot be possible without investment in our ICT infrastructure.
Kuuku Sam, Institute of ICT Professional, Ghana