Internet or food: first things first

Photo credit: UN News Centre

Mobile broadband. Photo: ITU/M.Jacobson-Gonzalez


by Willem Van Cotthem (University of Ghent, Belgium)

Today I read a remarkable story sent by the UN News Centre :
Billions of people in developing world still without Internet access, new UN report finds
Let me copy a few sentences :
(1) Broadband Internet is failing to reach billions of people living in the developing world, including 90 per cent of those living in the poorest nations, according to a new United Nations report that offers country-by-country data on the state of access around the globe. The State of Broadband, produced by the UN Broadband Commission and released today, reveals that 57 per cent of the world’s people remain offline and unable to take advantage of the enormous economic and social benefits the Internet can offer.
(2) “The 2030 Agenda recognizes the power of new technologies to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide, to develop knowledge societies – we must do everything to support States in reaching these goals, especially developing States,” Ms. Bokova noted. “This calls for stronger efforts by governments and all actors, in ensuring access, use and affordability – it requires also greater work to build the capacities of all women and men to make the most of all new opportunities,” she added. According to the report, the Internet is currently only accessible to 35 per cent of people in developing countries. The situation in the 48 UN-designated Least Developed Countries (LDCs) is particularly critical, with over 90 per cent of people without any kind of Internet connectivity.
So, the priority is that all actors should produce “stronger efforts in ensuring access, use and affordability of new technologies” ?
I can’t resist thinking: “LET FIRST THE BILLION OF HUNGRY PEOPLE MAKE THEIR CHOICE” between (1) access to the internet or (2) access to a small family (kitchen) garden (and not dependence on daily food aid by one of the organizations).
It is quite possible that many malnourished youngsters will prefer to have a mobile phone (with batteries and a monthly invoice).
Two questions remain:
 “Do we produce stronger efforts to get a healthy population in developing countries or a hungry one that has access to the internet ? “
“Who will pay for the daily use of the new technologies, if not the hungry people themselves ?”.
It requires less work to build the capacities of all women and men to apply the best practices to produce their own fresh and healthy food, full of vitamins, e.g. in their container garden (a wealth of success stories available).

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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