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Digitalisation

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

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Since 2016, CTA has been working with farmer organisations in Burkina Faso, Fiji, Kenya, Lesotho, Samoa, Swaziland, Trinidad, and Tobago and Uganda, to implement their Data for Agriculture (Data4Ag) project. The aim of the project is to investigate how the collection and effective management of farmer data can be used by farmer organisations to improve the livelihoods of their members.

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With decision EX.CL/Dec. 986-1007 (XXXII), the African Union (AU) has established one of the most important incentives for its member states – to use drones to boost Africa’s development and accelerate transformation on the continent. Indeed, drones have been used to solve many development problems in the fields of agriculture, health, infrastructure monitoring, surveying and soil mapping, among others, and have the potential to find further application.

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Data-driven services have the potential to effectively propel agricultural innovations and contribute to the sustainability of food systems. But despite a continuous increase of initiatives facilitating common data exchange in agriculture, a lack of legal and policy frameworks continues to hamper ownership, control and access of data.

Agricultural transformation is a priority in the policy agenda of African governments in their quest to meet the challenges of food and nutrition insecurity, climate change, youth unemployment and overall economic growth. With the right policies, innovation and investment, the continent’s agriculture could be transformed into a powerhouse not only to feed a growing population but to create decent employment for millions of young people.

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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.