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Digitalisation

Increasing profitability and productivity for smallholder farmers through digitalisation and innovative business practices

The CTA blockchain workshop aimed to explore blockchain and its contribution to the transformation of the agricultural sector

© CTA

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The increasing buzz on blockchain technology has, in recent times, drawn attention to its application within the agriculture sector. The technology can be leveraged upon to improve agriculture efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency in Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, including intra-ACP business transactions and transactions between ACP and international business stakeholders.

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A recurring question in agricultural development is how to transition successful donor-funded initiatives into self-sustaining, smallholder-focused businesses. One of CTA’s most innovative digitalisation projects, the Market-led, User-owned ICT4Ag-enabled Information Service (MUIIS), is proving it can be done.

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Agriculture accounts for 70% of employment on small farms and occupies half of all land area in Uganda, providing half of all exports and one-quarter of the country’s GDP. It is considered a leading sector for future economic growth and economic inclusion in the current National Development Plan. Coffee remains the leading agricultural export commodity in the country and is expected to greatly contribute towards the realisation of the 2040 national vision.

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To discuss the opportunities and challenges for blockchain in agriculture in the agri-food sector, over 160 participants gathered in Brussels on 15 May, 2019 at the 55th Brussels Development Briefing organised by CTA, the European Commission (DEVCO), the ACP Secretariat, Concord and BMZ.

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The Pacific region is facing a huge decrease in fisheries revenue – its principal source of income and employment over the last decade. Reported by Stop Illegal Fishing, the Fijian government states that, “About 306,440 t of fish were harvested illegally in the Pacific region with an estimated cost of $616.11 million from 2010 to 2015”.

"Digitalisation is crumbling all sorts of borders and African agriculture will be deeply impacted. Technologies can help stimulate innovation for sustainable agri-food systems and produce better and safer food while preserving natural resources and biodiversity. But we need to be conscious and support solutions that are sustainable and that are tailored to countries’ needs, and embedded into conducive and broader innovation systems." Leonard Mizzi, Head of Unit at the European Commission, DG for International Cooperation and Development

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One of the first applications for the incentive system of blockchain: ‘cryptocurrencys’ was its use in remittances. A digital currency without borders could be used to transfer money across nations at a faster rate and lower cost than conventional methods. Crowdlending platform, EthicHub, has explored and implemented these possibilities to provide smallholder farmers in developing countries with financial services. Jana Petkanic, from the Benelux office for EthicHub, talks about the company’s innovative blockchain project in Mexico.

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The journey to the Agrihack Lab in Tonga on 3-6 December 2018 started with a collaboration between the Centre for Flexible Learning at the University of the South Pacific (USP), and the National Food and Nutrition Centre, Ministry of Health and Medical Services in Fiji to address the current nutrition crisis in the Pacific.

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In September 2018, TraSeable Solutions was fortunate to be invited to participate in the CTA Pacific AgriHack Lab competition in Tonga to pitch our new initiative, the Integrated Mobile and Web-based Market and Transport Access Platform for Pacific Farmers. The award for winning the competition was a monetary prize that could be used to scale-up activities and expand the business. This event came at an opportune time to test our initial concepts and acquire useful feedback from experts in the agri-tech field.

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.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the yield gap – the difference between a crop’s potential and the real yield – is often high, with many farmers harvesting 25% of the amount of maize, millet or other staple crop they could be getting, using the right information, technologies and inputs. This helps to explain why only 20% of the food produced in many African countries is sold, as smallholder farmers need to keep the rest just to feed themselves. Hence low incomes and widespread rural poverty.

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The Malaita Youth in Business Association (MYIBA), was one of the recipients of three awards during the Pacific Agrihack Lab competition in Tonga last year December 2018. The event sought to scale-up novel and existing ICT innovations to improve economic activities within agricultural value chains.

One of CTA’s most innovative digitalisation projects, the Market-Led User-Owned ICT4Ag-Enabled Information Service (MUIIS), made good progress in 2018, helping smallholder farmers in Uganda significantly improve their crop yields and profits. Launched in late 2015 with support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MUIIS set itself the goal of increasing the yields of 200,000 Ugandans farmers by at least 25% and their profits by 20%.

“Most of Africa missed out on the Green Revolution that transformed agriculture in South and East Asia, but we’re not going to miss the digital revolution,” says Dr Abdelaziz Lawani, Professor of Agribusiness at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU). Dr Lawani is also the founder of Global Partners, a Benin-based start-up which uses unmanned aerial vehicles – or drones – to provide a range of services to farmers and others.

For the vast majority of people living in West Africa, cereals are an important part of their diet. They are also the staple crop for hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers, and boosting productivity and sales could do much to improve regional food security and tackle hunger. However, a lack of reliable information about market conditions and profitability are hindering the efficient operation of cereal value chains.

For many years now, most small-scale farmers in the Pacific Islands have struggled to make a decent living. The shift from the traditional diet of fish, fruit, indigenous tubers and fresh vegetables to one based on cheap, imported, calorie-dense foods not only reduced demand for local produce but led to major health problems, with the Pacific now suffering from some of the highest rates of diet-related diseases in the world.

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Founded by Abraham Cambridge in 2014, The Sun Exchange is based in South Africa where the company is working to address a huge gap in funding for solar projects. Today, their solution is helping to power factories, schools and wildlife. In this article, Cambridge details Sun Exchange’s experience with blockchain technology.