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Agricultural data systems to transform smallholder farming

Monday, 28 May 2018 Updated on Friday, 15 June 2018

In the last three years, digitalisation in agriculture has been a core intervention area for CTA. With the support of the Panafrican Farmers' Organisation (PAFO) and additional financial support of AgriCord, a 3-year, CTA EU-Funded €1.2 million project “Data4Ag: Agricultural data systems to transform smallholder farming” focuses on transforming smallholder agriculture through the use of data management by agri-enterprises.

To implement the Data4Ag project, CTA is working with a number of partners on the ground in eight countries: Burkina Faso, Fiji, Kenya, Lesotho, Samoa, Swaziland, Trinidad and Tobago and Uganda. Partners include the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU), the East Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF), IGARA Tea, the National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE) and Agriterra.

“Our project aims to facilitate better data management in farmer-owned cooperatives, associations and farmer’s organisations, as well as aid their development. It focuses on transforming agriculture for smallholder farmers through joint ventures to reach new markets and by using aggregated data to provide better services for their members,” says Chris Addison, CTA's Senior Programme Coordinator Data4Ag.

Delivering better services to smallholder farmers

Farmer profiling is one of the key elements of the project and this process comprises of a number of steps. Firstly, a series of awareness sessions are conducted through public campaigns and radio to communicate to farmers the purpose of data collection, which helps to get farmers’ agreement regarding the use of their data. Secondly, working with SACAU, CTA has supported training of enumerators to capture profile information of smallholder farmers through interviews in Lesotho, Swaziland and Uganda. In addition, face-to-face meetings held in communities have enabled enumerators to collect data for farmer profiles and geolocations using tablets and mobile phones. A range of information regarding farmers’ personal data, location, crop, production, finance, and business information is collected. The data collected is then transferred to the digital platform established by the farmers’ organisations. CTA has also supported the capacity building of farmers’ organisations for data analysis and visualisation.

Based on the profile database and the training of farmers’ organisations in data management, farmers’ organisations are now able to map their members’ locations. This provides a starting point for the better management and provision of services to members. “Through farmers’ profiling experience, we were able to map tea leaf collection points and where our farmers come from. So, we are going to use the collected data to group farmers around appropriate leaf collection centres for convenient management of our members. In addition, we are also going to create new administrative zones using the datasets to demarcate and define how many farmers will serve in these zones and how we can group them into administrative units,” states Onesimus Matsiko, general manager of the Igara Growers Tea Factory (IGTF) Ltd, a Ugandan company owned by more than 3,600 smallholder farmers.

Gathering information not only enhances membership management, but it can also be used to improve handling of credit for inputs to farmers, organising crop collection logistics processing, and marketing of products. Through the project, farmers’ organisation and agri-businesses have also taken advantage of geolocation data and the basic profiling of crops and farmers to provide targeted and added-value services to farmers. Geo-targeted services and increased traceability are expected to improve market access and incomes for smallholder farmers.

Scaling up data services for farmers

Since 2016, CTA has been organising a series of workshops leading up to a consultation with farmers’ organisations. By engaging PAFO, the World Farmers Organisation and AgriCord, CTA is expected to promote and enhance best data use across Africa, Caribbean and Pacific regions. Key findings from these consultations will also provide the basis for a handbook to assist the digitalisation of farmers’ organisations focussing on data services. The consultations will also feed into a priority roadmap which organisations can present to donors and governments to seek areas of support. CTA has been working with GODAN and GFAR and the next step in this process will be supporting an e-discussion hosted by e-Agriculture on data rights for farmers organisations from 4th June 2018 . A white paper has also been produced as part of this joint work.

Policy perspectives

Currently, the Data4Ag project is using links established by working with the Global Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) to reach policymakers. Farmers’ organisations are expected to play a key role regarding policymakers with farmer’s registration data such as advocacy, control and pledge for particular interests. Additionally, CTA is working in collaboration with the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs, the University of Nairobi and other stakeholders to raise awareness of data management issues to inform policy in order to support and improve farmer registration and data management by farmers’ organisations.

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