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Data-driven services for smallholder farmers




Farmer’s organisations are being supported by CTA in data-related activities ranging from farmer registration to extension services.

The increasing use of mobile phones, alongside remote-sensing data, open source software and other digital tools, offer an expanding variety of opportunities for data-driven services for farmers and agribusinesses. Farmer registration and data profiling are also critical in providing farmers’ organisations, businesses and policymakers with reliable information to support on-farm and policy decision-making. Under its Data4Ag project, CTA supports farmers’ organisations to build digital membership management systems and provide better services for their farmer members.

Importance of farmer registration and profiling

CTA is supporting farmers organisations to manage data effectively focussing on the core role of farmers profiles. Gathering data about farmers in order to profile them constitutes the foundation in the process. The data collected can include their contact details, location, farm details, field data, crop and production information. With access to such information farmers’ organisations have been able to improve access new markets and buyers, improve logistics, improve communication and access credit which has enabled them to sell more crops and led to better incomes for smallholder farmers such is the case for e-granary run by the East African Farmers Federation.

Farmers’ profiling data provides farmers’ organisations with reliable information on their membership in a digital form, allowing for more efficient delivery of information. The electronic membership management system therefore offers greater opportunity for farmers’ organisations and ICT service providers to propose new, targeted and value-added services to farmers. In addition, farmers can benefit from services and information, such as weather data, market and price information, which is tailored to their individual contexts and delivered at the right time. The establishment of the data platform also facilitates financial solutions for smallholder farmers. In the case of Igara Tea, in Uganda, it facilitated the mapping of collection stations against farms, the creation of a new SACCO for access to credit, more accurate input supplies and an increase in crop processed through the factory.

“Farmers are an enormous capital base for farmers’ organisations. Farmers’ organisations can then provide advice to their members based on their farm data,” explained Ishmael Sunga, CEO of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) following their experiences in Lesotho and Swaziland.

CTA’s approach to farmer profiling

In 2016, CTA started to work with SACAU to build an electronic membership data system for the Swaziland National Farmers’ Union and Lesotho National Farmers’ Union. By December 2016, a total of over 45,000 farmers had been profiled in Swaziland and Lesotho. With these datasets, the farmers’ organisations are able to target farmers with extension and other information based on various criteria such as gender, location, crop production, and access to fertiliser. The farmers’ data is also used to improve services based on crop protection diagnosis, extension advice, early warning alerts, market information, certification, and traceability.

According to Sunga, farmer profiling and registration is a highway to self-sustainability for farmers’ organisations and service providers as it helps to establish a digital network that allows third parties and other stakeholders to connect with smallholder farmers. SACAU is now working with these providers to develop new business models that sustain farmers organisations by selling services to members and to partners.

In the Caribbean and the Pacific, CTA is supporting similar work with farmers’ organisations to better understand and value the benefits of data in supporting their members. However, the issue of regulation, as well as privacy and quality of data, are key concerns for farmers’ organisations to consider. In managing farmers data organisations need to keep the farmers informed on potential use of the data and how their rights can be protected. With this in mind the Data4Ag project supported the production of a white paper together with GFAR and GODAN: Digital and data-driven agriculture: Harnessing the power of data for smallholders.

Applying lessons learnt

In November 2017, a Data4Ag workshop determined a number of priority data driven services that were being used by farmers organisations in the areas of extension, finance, insurance and markets. The dialogue on how farmers organisations can use these applications for the benefit of their members is being developed to bring to policy resulting in two policy briefs and being brought to development actors and governments through a high level policy dialogue during 2018-2019. 


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