San Jose, 1 December 2022 (IICA) – At least 72 million rural inhabitants in Latin America and the Caribbean lack access to connectivity services with the minimum quality standards, according to the research study “Rural Connectivity in Latin America and the Caribbean: Current Situation, Challenges and Actions to Achieve Digitalization and Sustainable Development”, which was presented on Thursday by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the World Bank, Bayer, CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, Microsoft and Syngenta.
The new document describes the status of rural connectivity in the region, updating the data published by IICA in October 2020 in the document “Rural Connectivity in Latin America and the Caribbean – a Bridge to Sustainable Development During a Pandemic”.
According to the latest report, access to significant rural connectivity has increased by 12 percent compared to 2020, when approximately 77 million people lacked access to this vital service.
The study, which focused on 26 Latin American and Caribbean countries, provides a comprehensive overview of the status of rural connectivity in the region. The data reveal that the urban-rural connectivity gap has expanded compared to 2020, which undermines the immense social, economic and production potential of rural areas, which play a strategic role in guaranteeing global food and nutritional security.
At present, 79 percent of the urban population has access to significant connectivity services (compared to 71 percent two years ago), as opposed to only 43.4 percent of their counterparts in rural areas (compared to 36.8 percent in the previous report). Although access to significant rural connectivity services has improved by almost 7 points compared to the 2020 report, the urban-rural gap has increased by 2 percentage points, rising to 36 percent.
The data confirm that there is a persistent rural gap, which calls for decisive action and innovative solutions.
The estimate enabled the team to characterize the situation in the region, by defining three clusters among the 26 countries, all of which have shortcomings in rural connectivity, which have existed for decades:
- Argentina, Barbados, The Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay, which represent 24 percent of the sample rural population, are the 10 countries that make up the high-level significant rural connectivity cluster. Out of the countries in this group, those that displayed the greatest progress with respect to the 2020 figures were Barbados and Belize, where the percentage of rural dwellers with access to significant connectivity more than doubled. The percentage of rural inhabitants with access to significant connectivity also improved significantly in Argentina, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay, increasing by close to or more than 30 percent.
- Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay and Suriname are the nine countries that comprise the medium-level significant rural connectivity cluster, which represents 46 percent of the sample rural population. Of this group, Peru, Mexico, Honduras and Bolivia showed the greatest progress with respect to the percentage of rural inhabitants who improved their connectivity conditions.
-Bolivia, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela are the seven countries that make up the low significant rural connectivity cluster, which represents 30 percent of the sample rural population. Compared to the 2020 study, Jamaica, El Salvador, Belize and Peru became part of the medium-level significant rural connectivity cluster.
According to the new study, common obstacles most countries face to more swiftly expand access to rural connectivity include limitations in the use of universal access funds, problems in the installation of networks due to electrical infrastructure issues and road conditions, high investment costs and less cost-effectiveness for operating companies, and a limited number of incentives to stimulate investment in rural areas.
“Overcoming the connectivity and digital skills gap in rural areas requires public policies, private sector involvement and international cooperation to resolve the current situation. Although the countries of the region are taking steps to update regulatory frameworks and develop digital agendas and policies, they have been unable to implement large-scale solutions given that they face considerable needs with respect to investment in infrastructure. Much of the progress achieved thus far has been fleeting, so there is a risk that any achievements could be lost”, said Sandra Ziegler, the IICA researcher who led the study.
“Improving and investing in connectivity will help drive the economic growth of countries. There is evidence of the positive correlation between infrastructure use and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Connectivity, the development of mobile networks and investment in their sustainability and subsequent expansion make a valuable contribution to post-pandemic economic recovery and regional development”, said IICA international technical specialist Joaquín Arias Segura, who co-led the study.
OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
With support from the World Bank, Bayer, CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, Microsoft and Syngenta, IICA undertook this research based on the inter-institutional consensus that promoting connectivity is essential and a priority to fuel overall production, social and community development in rural areas.
Moreover, technological transformations and their application to production in rural areas, with the consequent economic and social benefits, will call for the promotion of policies and initiatives that bridge the rural connectivity gap.
The research also serves as an appeal for decisive action by governments, the private sector and civil society to quickly remedy the rural connectivity gaps.
The study has also concluded that technological changes in rural areas have helped to increase the productivity level of crops in the most disadvantaged regions, and thus connectivity has immense potential to help break the vicious cycle that is currently generating insecurity, poverty and migration from these areas.
Therefore, a substantial boost in rural connectivity will also be a key factor in facilitating producers’ access to market chains, contributing to generational succession in agriculture, empowering rural women and fueling the bioeconomy, among other impacts, and will also be essential for the dissemination of knowledge and strategic information to improve crops and crop yields and to implement good agricultural practices, which in turn will boost income generation in rural areas.
PUBLIC POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
The study includes a series of public policy recommendations for digital skills development in rural areas, with a view to fully capitalizing on the opportunities afforded by rural connectivity, as follows:
-Ensure affordable and meaningful connectivity for educational purposes, and simultaneously address the access gap and the use of new technologies by rural dwellers.
-Address the issue of digital skills by segmenting the target groups of initiatives. Differentiated training strategies are required for youth and for the economically active population that must restructure production.
-Create genuine opportunities for technological immersion and design customized experiences for users, thereby improving conditions for adopting the necessary digital skills.
-Youth pursuing agricultural studies must receive training that is aligned with the agricultural digitalization process.
-Facilitate the advent of digital technology through formal education. The presence of children and youth in households and the involvement of schools contribute to the incorporation of technologies in rural areas. States should be called on to support ICT policies that drive rural development, foster training for youth to encourage them to remain in rural areas, and provide incentives for technology adoption among adults.
-Academic programs, from elementary school to higher education, should provide rural youth with digital training. Guaranteeing universal access to the Internet in rural schools is a necessary condition for digitalization to truly take off.
-Support studies on digital skills in the region. Sufficient scientific research on this topic, and the evidence that can be gathered from it, are crucial in order to develop policies and initiatives that foster digital skills development in the region.
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