Role of communication ecology in improving rural information outflows

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Access to information for rural livelihoods is a pathway designed towards empowering societies.

Knowledge improvement is key in bringing the poor and the most excluded social groups into sustainable development processes.

The world’s hungry and poor, especially women and children, are vulnerable to climate change because they live in marginal environments; in communities prone to weather and climate-related disasters, which expose them to climate change impacts. Within the framework of human ecology, human actors harness the power of multimedia communication technologies in a networked environment, to build and share knowledge to achieve sustainable development goals.

Communication ecology is defined as the network of human interactions and information communication technology (ICTs), fostering digital communication environment for sustainable development. This is key in avoiding loss of rural livelihoods, environmental degradation and lack of sustainable markets for rural products.

In this regard, empowerment is also necessary for enlightening communities about sustainable ways of using technology to add value to their living standards. The idea is to create conditions for improved food security, create employment for themselves, safeguard the environment, increase income and realise climate resilience.

The time when a wide range of multimedia communication technologies invaded the markets, many people became techno-savvy, hence they were not trained about the sustainable use of these gadgets in order to safeguard their survival with regard to issues of privacy, illicit and damaging information in the light and framework of ubuntu.

In this view, communication ecology advocates for the sustainable use of technology to achieve human development goals, improve living standards, protect the environment and participate in low carbon emissions. The provision of right information and knowledge which can contribute to solving of problems in their communities while they network locally, regionally and globally is key and life-saving.

Mobile phones, internet, social media platforms, digital and cameras, can improve how rural communities interact with their environments. The establishment of rural information centres would enable communities to document activities in their environment and tell their stories. These rural communities need technology to interact, network and share their problems at community level because they rely on climate sensitive natural resources for food and incomes. Above all, they lack the assets that would enable them to cope with climate change and disaster risks.

Videos and photographs can build their self-esteem and confidence as well as increasing their knowledge and understanding of climate change issues. Barriers can be removed for women and children to lead in story-making, data collection, interviewing and editing their videos and photographs to come up with community-based digital stories. Strategically, rural-situated information centres are the way to go and they would be key in acting as information banks and repositories for disadvantaged communities to network, learn and get empowered. These centres would be instrumental in passing relevant knowledge about community-based livelihoods to children as they grow. Rural information centres are important for communication ecology because that is where children see farming activities taking place.

Of course, internet connectivity is sometimes volatile in developing countries and that’s a given and it should be noted as an information gap. When internet is available because of correct funding and support, women and children cannot be rendered idle. Due to high levels of poverty inherent in rural areas, communities require skills through life-long learning and not food handouts. People should be empowered through appropriate knowledge because not all knowledge is sufficiently empowering, some is destructive while some is lip-service.

Rural communities would be empowered gradually through workshops, and other forms of activities designed to change human behaviours and promote human preparedness.

As these rural knowledge hubs would be operating, emphasis will be placed on the prevailing literacy levels, poverty scales including the ability to maintain these valuable centres and infrastructure. Information banks need to be updated regularly in order to do away with obsolete information and replace it with something current and new according to local and global standards. In terms of education, it would be critical to identify information and knowledge gaps in these communities so that these become their needs and necessities.
As this would be a gradual process, these centres can start operating with government and donor support until the communities are sufficiently empowered to run their own affairs in the long run. Once again, connectivity should be maintained so that these noble centres do not become white elephants. From the community projects they would be running, participants can set aside some money to maintain connectivity and upgrade services.

These centres won’t be an end to themselves, but just life back-ups to promote communication ecology because all community problems cannot be solved by the internet, hence these knowledge hubs would facilitate creative thinking, innovation and value addition. Above all, within these communities, some people need knowledge in their local languages in order to make the information locally specific and appealing.

Understanding a whole network of activities would motivate communities to hold community development meetings regularly, as part of monitoring and evaluation. They can also flip charts to use drawings to identify recurring problems and these problems would be named based on the drawings. They would also be in a position to present community problems using pictures and diagrams so that community learning would appeal to all human senses.

 Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on: petrovmoyt@gmail.com