Knowing soils, strengthening rural livelihoods: What role for information and communication technologies in Tanzania’s small-scale agriculture?

Lead supervisor: Professor Dorothea Kleine, Sheffield Institute for International Development
Co-supervisor(s): Dr Anna Krzywoszynska, Geography; Professor Dan Brockington, Sheffield Institute for International Development

Deadline: Thursday 23 February 2017

Applications for this project have now closed.

Project description

We seek applications from self-motivated and enthusiastic students for an exceptional PhD project which will explore the role Information and Communication Technologies may play in enhancing sustainable agriculture, and thus strengthening rural livelihoods, in sub-Saharan Africa.

In Tanzania, small-scale agricultural production is a crucial sector for employment and income. Agricultural knowledge exists in many different forms, both codified and tacit. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are seen by some as a promising way to enhance the sustainability and profitability of small-scale farming by allowing farmers access to crucial information. Using a range of qualitative methods, this project will investigate the relationship between ICTs and local knowledge systems, with a particular focus on soil management and conservation, at three different sites in Tanzania. The project will explore the relationship between presumed and actual agricultural knowledge systems, as well as the consequences this has for the utility of ICTs for development in Tanzania.

ICTs are seen as a promising way of helping small-scale farmers in the developing world achieve environmental and financial sustainability, and the sector has seen growing private and public investment. In many income-rich countries, ICTs are becoming increasingly important as tools for understanding and managing soils (e.g. satellite imaging, farming apps etc.). However, the impact of ICTs on small scale farming has been more limited than expected. Current literature typically blames limited awareness, engagement, or technophobia on the part of the users. Conversely, this project will critically examine the relationship between agricultural digital tools and the local knowledge landscapes which they attempt to intervene in. It will explore the relationship between ICTs and various other forms of soil management knowledge in order to examine whether and how ICTs may aid soil conservation practices in Tanzania.

The project will contribute to essential debates on the use of ICTs for agricultural development (e-agriculture) through targeted case studies of rural communities in Tanzania. It will employ a comparative case study methodology, utilizing a mix of qualitative methods including site ethnography, interviews, and participatory mapping.

This PhD offers an exciting opportunity to make important contributions in the areas of ICT for development, natural resource management, and international development research. It will also prepare the PhD candidate to work in environment, development, advocacy and academia. The project will bring together Prof. Dorothea Kleine’s expertise in ICT in international development, Prof. Dan Brockington’s expertise in rural livelihood change, and Dr. Anna Krzywoszynska’s expertise in human relations with soils, agricultural knowledge systems, and science and technology studies’ perspectives on technology use.

The project will require a candidate with a strong academic track record, excellent communication skills, willingness to travel, and an ability to work independently. Language skills in Swahili would be desirable.

Keywords: geography, international development, digital, e-agriculture, agriculture, sustainability

Subject areas: Geography, Development Studies, Science and Technology Studies, Ecology and Conservation, Anthropology, African Studies

Funding notes

This four-year studentship will be fully funded at Home/EU or international rates. Support for travel and consumables (RTSG) will also be made available at standard rate of £2,627 per annum, with an additional one-off allowance of £1,000 for a computer in the first year.  Students will receive an annual stipend of £17,336.