Putting digital technology in farmers’ hands

For decades, farm data across ACP countries has been collected by governments, financial service providers and even mobile network operators, to provide insights into agriculture that can be used to shape and influence the sector from the top down. But with more than 40% of African households now belonging to farmer cooperatives – many of which digitally record and store their members’ farm data – decision-makers increasingly acknowledge that a more localised and inclusive approach to data may be the best way to transform agriculture.

Issue 89 of CTA’s ICT Update focuses on ‘Data4Ag’, presenting a selection of eight case studies from across Africa that demonstrate the benefits of placing digital technology – with the capacity to record more and more accurate data – in farmers’ hands. This is no less clear than in Kenya where, in 2018, AgroCares piloted a mobile app that converts soil data gathered using a portable scanner into customised fertiliser recommendations. As a result, farmers using the app reported more economic fertiliser usage and higher yields.

As well as enhancing productivity, digital technology is increasingly being used to bolster farmers’ climate-resilience in the face of weather uncertainty. A CTA-supported Climate Livestock and Markets project in East Africa, for instance, provides pastoralists with weather information – including potential rainfall, temperature and evapotranspiration. A cloud-based weather information system draws this data from a host of local weather stations, where it is then delivered directly to the pastoralists’ mobile phones via SMS – allowing farmers to better plan for, and adapt to, changing weather and climate conditions.

Weather and climate data is also being employed across Africa to provide farmers with index-based insurance. The Dutch Environmental Analysis and Remote Sensing organisation uses data gathered from meteorological satellites to develop ‘index thresholds’ for specific climate factors. In Uganda, for example, when evapotranspiration – a reliable indicator of plant growth – falls below the calculated threshold, farmers in the insured area are automatically compensated without having to file a claim.

The latest ICT Update highlights the importance of a better connected and smallholder sector – which, it suggests, can be achieved by giving farmers and farmer organisations the tools to capitalise on existing digital technology. (For more information on ‘Data4Ag’, see Spore’s dossier in issue 190, available online here)

ICT Update nᵒ89: Data4Ag: New opportunities for organised smallholder farmers
Edited by Yanick Bakker
CTA, 2018; 20 pp.

Samuel Price