Sunday, February 03, 2008

Linking L10n & ICT4D: Bring back AfAgrICT-L?

One way of describing my focus in working on Bisharat and the PanAfrican Localisation project is linking localization (L10n) of information and communications technology (ICT) with ICT for development (ICT4D) in Africa. Last October I framed this as a question on the LinkedIn network in this way: How to promote better integration & synergism among ICT4D & L10n activities in Africa?

It's an ongoing concern and a question that needs to be returned to from time to time. Therefore I will try to periodically revisit this issue here with specific news, questions or ideas. One of those follows:

Bring back AfAgrICT-L?

About 9 years ago, an email list called "AfAgrICT-L" was set up to facilitate communication about use of ICTs in African agriculture and natural resource management. It was set up by CTA, hosted by Bellanet. Its origins go back to 1995 as described on this page (retrieved from the Wayback Machine), and was intended to "be operational for at least 1 year, after which its continued use and relevance will be re-evaluated." Its purposes were described as:

  • Identify and indicate key ICT issues and strategies relevant to agricultural development and natural resource management in Africa;
  • Improve the common pool of knowledge and expertise available in this area;
  • Identify relevant projects and expertise that could assist in defining strategies
  • Provide a mechanism for monitoring technical developments and electronic information sources which can benefit those working in the area of agriculture, rural development and natural resource management.
I discovered AfAgrICT-L in late 1999 and participated on it until it faded out in 2001 or so. It was a brief period, but left an impression. CTA called it "influential." Yet it was closed.

There is now renewed focus on African agriculture as central to African development, and at the same time ICT4D (and ICT in general) is only getting more important in the region. A forum for these topics - ICT, ICT4D, and African agriculture - seems even more timely now than it was several years ago. Of course one could start a website or a list in a short time, but I'm thinking that to revive this known project, and adapt it to the evolving situation, could be of great use for professionals, researchers, and program managers in the coming years.

Then there is the L10n dimension - ICT in African languages. Farmers and rural communities rely even more on African languages than urban areas, and local environmental and agricultural knowledge are embedded in their langauges and cultures. L10n and ICT(4D) in agriculture and NRM would seem to be a natural combination, and support for L10n is much further along now than it was before. So one added dimension for a new AfAgrICT-L could be the intersection of the technical concerns with how to incorporate and adapt localization as appropriate for different goals.

So, is it time to bring back AfAgrICT-L in a new form?

CTA's ICT Update: "Language Technology"

Having mentioned CTA, I should also note that their ICT Update Issue 40 (Dec. 2007) is devoted to the theme "Language Technology." I had the privilege of contributing one of the articles, "Localizing Languages."


Jane said...

Don I find all of this absolutely fascinating and will come back to read more when I have a chance

Don said...

Thanks, Jane, for your comment and I look forward to any feedback you may have.