Technological innovations and advances in digital farming continue to evolve at a rapid pace, increasing efficiencies in farming operations globally. However, the adoption of these new technologies by small-scale farmers is still low due to poor data infrastructure and a lack of business partnerships, limiting farmer organisations from capitalising on market opportunities.
The CTA project, Building the next generation of farmers, aims to help farmer organisations strengthen their capacities in agribusiness management, integrate farmers into markets, and expose them to more information and emerging innovations. CTA, in partnership with the Pan African Farmers Organisation (PAFO), supported representatives from four farmers’ organisations to attend the Paris International Agribusiness Show (SIA) and the SIMA Paris in February 2019, in Paris, France. This event attracted agribusiness practitioners from across the world and provided CTA and PAFO delegates with a platform to connect, discuss and network with international agribusinesses.
Representatives from CAPAD (Confédération des associations des producteurs agricoles pour le Développement), PROPAC (Plateforme sous-régionale des organisations paysannes d’Afrique centrale), FEPA/B (Fédération des professionnels agricoles du Burkina), and FIA (Foire internationale de l'agriculture) from Madagascar were invited to the Paris conference following a workshop in November 2018. At this event, "Opportunities to support a new generation of farmers by favourable political environment, access to innovation and business opportunities", farmers reiterated their need to access new markets and technologies. ‘’When asked what were their priorities in terms of development, farmers identified enterprise development, business opportunities and access to digital technologies", says Chris Addison, Senior Programme Coordinator for CTA’s Data4Ag project, who facilitated the arrival of the PAFO delegation.
Forging business partnerships
Attending the SIA provided the farmer organisations with an opportunity to explore the possibilities of negotiating commercial partnerships with international companies. In total, the delegates established contacts with over 40 agribusiness companies. The participants expressed an interest in several services across the agricultural value chain, varying from production and processing, to conservation and waste management. These included:
- Mechanisation: CAPAD was interested in agricultural equipment (such as seed drills, threshing machines, and mini tractors) to ease the drudgery of agricultural work. Delegates were also keen to learn more about the CUMA model (coopérative d'utilisation de matériel agricole) that encouraged farmers to share agricultural equipment to reduce costs.
- Management of agricultural waste: CAPAD made contact with Socopa, which specialises in turning agricultural waste products into biogas and livestock feed. PROPAC also initiated partnerships with three companies involved in the manufacturing of biogas and irrigation equipment.
- Agricultural digitisation: Delegates discovered technological innovations on farm-monitoring (monitoring soil health and fertility) and online market/trading platforms. One partnership was with consulting firm SBC4D, which has developed a digital platform to facilitate access to improved market information.
FEPAB and its partners (AgriTech, Espace Géomatique and Ferme Digitale start-up partners) were able to showcase different services, including the use of drones in agriculture, on their stand which attracted 1,000 visitors. FEPA/B also exhibited a sample of products (corn flour, moringa powder, dried mango and dried ginger) made by member women and youth cooperatives, enabling visitors to place orders.
Linking, learning and sharing experiences
By connecting with companies that manufacture agricultural equipment, delegates were able to raise farmers’ concerns over data ownership. One particular policy panel – "Agriculture augmentée : une réalité aujourd’hui et demain" – enabled them to discuss these issues with industry leaders, including those working on Microsoft and Google applications. Taking part in the panel discussion was a core part of the overall visit and was arranged through the GODAN network. Delegates also heard about ‘farmer dinners’, which bring together farmers from Belgium, France, Germany and Italy to facilitate knowledge exchange.
More demand-driven innovative solutions
The delegation not only benefitted from business exchanges, but was also reminded of the importance of developing innovative solutions that satisfy the needs of their smallholder farmer members. ‘’I came to SIMA to meet partners, to build relationships with these partners, but also to find technological innovations that can be adapted in Africa, more specifically to the women and youth-led smallholder farming businesses in Central Africa", explains Marie-J, Medzeme Engama, PROPAC value chain expert. The executive secretary of CAPAD, Burundi, Annick Sezibera, agreed that one key message from the conference was the need to build farmer capacities and collaboration between farmers and agri-innovation partners to adapt digital innovations and agricultural equipment to the local contexts in their own countries.
“Initiatives improving the indigenous knowledge of farmers need to be supported”, added Fatma Ben Rejeb, PAFO executive secretary. “It could be either linking them with scientific research, new technologies, start-ups or with the private sector. However, our main request is to produce innovations desired and demanded by farmers.”