Looking Forward: Policies, Institutional and Organizational Arrangements for AKST Development and Application | 109

Currently, almost all government activity in CWANA takes place in a pervasive culture of official secrecy, manifest in both official attitude and various pieces of legislation (e.g., Official Secrets Act 1923 in Pakistan). Any disclosure or sharing of information, if and when it takes place, is on a “need to know” basis, as determined by official authorities, and not in recognition of the “right to know” as a fundamental human right. As a result, whether information is made accessible or not and at what time or in what manner it is disclosed is determined by the government. Citizens and communities have hardly any say or control over it, even though the information and records held by various government departments may have direct implications for their environment, health, safety and well-being as well as their ability to make political or economic choices. It particularly affects the weaker members of society, as the powerful find ways to access the information they require by using their contacts and influence.

The culture of secrecy is so predominant that it has seriously undermined almost all mechanisms created for providing access to government information. Official statements and press releases often provide one-sided information and lack credibility. Annual reports are either not published or lack details and appropriate analyses, which could help in determining the credibility of data presented and in assessing the year’s performance of related departments. Parliaments either do not exist or parliamentary proceedings do not provide adequate mechanisms for maximum disclosure of information about public policies and plans, participation of farming communities, transparency and accountability. Information could also be made accessible through Web sites but most government Web sites provide little that is useful. All of this is, partly or wholly, because there are no comprehensive policies that recognize the right to information as a fundamental human right and that provide an efficient legislative and institutional framework to assure this right.

The few countries in CWANA that have enacted and implemented right-to-information laws include Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan. Even where such laws exist, they do not conform to best international practices and hence offer little opportunity to promote a culture of transparency and accountability. This situation has adverse implications across the board but especially in relation to AKST, which is the mainstay of the economy of many CWANA countries. This lack of transparency and access to information explains, at least partially, the grave nature of the problem of corruption. On the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International in 2005, not even one country from CWANA is among the top 20 betterperforming countries. Among the first 50 best-performers, only 7 are from CWANA. Almost all the major countries in CWANA are among the poor performers on CPI. For instance in 2005, out of 158 countries, Turkey ranked 65, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria 70, Morocco 78, Iran 88, Algeria 97, Uzbekistan 137 and Pakistan 144. Information technology

New information and communication technology (ICT) potentially will have a profound effect on transmitting information and knowledge on agriculture and natural resource management. New systems will be emerging to provide


upto-date market, weather and extension information to rural producers, processors and shippers (USAID, 2005). Geographic information systems (GIS) will be increasingly used in linking geographic information to agriculture and NRM to help decision makers. GIS will allow more efficient use of inputs, which will not only save money in materials but will also make labor available for other activities (World Bank, 2007). Innovations in biological and information sciences have resulted in several emerging fields that hold promise for the development of future agricultural technologies. The new fields of bioremediation, nanotechnology, genomics and bioinformatics will increase knowledge that can be shared and used to improve sustainable agricultural production and protect ecosystem functions in industrial and developing countries alike (USDA, 2003).

We will need to facilitate the exchange of scientific information and knowledge among all stakeholders in the CWANA region, and between them and the outside world. The goals of facilitating sustainable development and developing a global partnership for development can only be realized in cooperation with the private sector to make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications (World Bank, undated). To meet the need to exchange information and knowledge, it is highly essential to improve and enhance ICT in the region. ICT will help bring together the scientific strengths and talents available in the region to collectively tackle the formidable challenges and tasks ahead (World Bank, 2007).

There is great potential to improve the access to information necessary for boosting production, using traditional communications technologies (such as radio) to disseminate information and ideas on agricultural technologies, markets and investors (USAID, 2005). For information without proprietary constraints, national and international agencies are increasingly using modern communication technologies, such as the Internet, to disseminate information. While such technologies are important bridging mechanisms for sharing information and experience between various sections of society and across countries (Juma and Gupta, 1999), and their use is likely to grow in the future, excessive reliance on them with the presence of the digital divide could prevent those CWANA countries with the least capacity and the greatest need for information (such as on biosafety and other risk-related fields) from having timely access to the latest knowledge they need. Measures should be taken to complement information dissemination through the Internet, including establishing information clearinghouses to act as bridges for sharing information and experience, and disseminating the lessons learned between various sections of society and across countries (Roozitalab, 2000). Appropriate specialized Web sites organized and managed by international organizations should play a more prominent role in spreading AKST. To deliver solutions for the poor in CWANA, biotechnology and information technology should be actively linked so that new scientific discoveries worldwide can be accessed and applied to the problems of food security and poverty in a timely manner (IFPRI, 1999). In addition to the growing challenge of facilitating and regulating access to information and information technologies, CWANA countries will need to harness modern science and skills for pro-poor growth, in a world in which agriculture