On the opening day of the first ever Global Summit on the Information Society, the organization said most of the estimated 1 billion people who have not benefited from the transformation of global information systems were the rural poor, many of whom survive on less than a dollar a day.

“There is a rural digital divide that needs to be addressed. It is imperative that the World Summit on the Information Society focuses on the needs of the world's poor living in rural areas," said Anton Mangstl, Director of FAO's Library and Documentation Systems Division. "More than three quarters of the poorest people on the planet, those who have been left behind by the information transformation, are directly or indirectly involved in agriculture," he added.

Bridging the rural digital divide has become a priority for FAO, and was the main message the organization took to this year's Summit in Geneva Dec. 10-12.

The World Summit on the Information Society brings together heads of state, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and civil society, the private sector and the media.

The Summit aims to foster a clear statement of political will and a concrete plan of action to shape the future of the global information society and to promote urgently needed access for all countries to the information, knowledge and communication technologies needed for development.

According to FAO experts, the digital divide excludes countries and specific populations, above all rural people, from vital knowledge and information on agriculture, forestry, fisheries, nutrition and other aspects of rural development. Such exclusion is a major constraint to the achievement of the goal of halving the number of the undernourished in the world by the year 2015.

FAO and its partners are working to bridge the rural digital divide by strengthening human and institutional capacities to harness information and knowledge more effectively.

FAO recognizes that knowledge and access to information are essential for combating hunger and poverty effectively. For these activities to be realized, the poor must play an active role in the process.

The second phase of the World Summit on the Information society will be held in Tunisia November 16-18, 2005.