TR10: Indigenous communities, ICT and rural development

Date: February 2017
Author/s: Terry van Gevelt
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The vast majority of the rural development literature focuses on relatively homogenous ethnolinguistic communities based in periurban and middle-rural areas. This literature has borne much fruit and there is now a general consensus among academics, practitioners and policy makers on the broad parameters of what is required to catalyse rural development in these areas, though the realisation of such development in practice continues to present challenges. The same cannot be said for indigenous communities. Often located in extremely remote areas, many indigenous communities rank among the most marginalised communities in the developing world and there is little theoretical and empirical study of the relationship between indigenous communities and rural development.

We contribute to this nascent literature by conceptualising the relationship between indigenous communities and rural development. We begin by assuming that a key consideration in understanding the relationship between indigenous communities and rural development is a recognition that many indigenous communities aim to balance outside influences with the consolidation of traditional organisational structures and culture. We illustrate the relationship between indigenous communities and rural development using the Thunen model.

We suggest that carefully executed information and communications technology (ICT) projects have the potential to alter the vector of economic distance for remote indigenous communities thereby both strengthening and expanding the set of economic activities undertaken. We test this hypothesis through careful study of three different ICT projects in indigenous communities located in Tanzania and Sarawak, Malaysia. Our first case study examines a community radio station in the Maasai village of Terrat in Tanzania. Our second case study focuses on a telecentre in the Kelabit village of Bario in Sarawak, Malaysia. Our final case study looks at how ICT has been used to augment traditional botanical knowledge in the Penan village of Long Lamai in Sarawak, Malaysia.