Big data for smallholder farmers

Domaine:
Digitalisation
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As a pioneer in digitalisation in agriculture, CTA was well positioned to play a leading role in this initiative to link farmers to satellite-based services. Central to the initiative are the small-scale farmers, many of whom are starting to see the concrete benefits of investing in ICTs to receive precise and targeted information that can lead to better harvests, greater climate resilience and stronger market linkages.

This publication reflects the achievements of MUIIS during the first two years of its implementation.

Bridging the information gap for Ugandan farmers 

There is massive scope for linking farmers to valuable knowledge and agricultural services through Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as a pathway to driving improved productivity and market access, creating opportunities for higher incomes and better food security as a result. In Uganda, as in many sub-Saharan countries, lack of timely and accurate access to information about weather, financial services, crop management, markets and climate coping mechanisms is a serious obstacle for smallholder farmers, preventing them from achieving higher yields and selling their produce for better prices.

To address these challenges, an innovative initiative is showcasing how ICTs can be used to capture satellite-based information on a wide range of agricultural indicators, packaging it into tailor-made messages for farmers in local languages. Led and implemented by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), which has extensive experience in shaping ICT solutions for smallholder farmers, with seed funding from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) through the Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW) Facility of the Netherlands Space Office (NSO), the Market-led, User-owned ICT4Ag-enabled Information Service (MUIIS) is a satellite data-enabled extension and advisory service that uses ICTs to address the current agricultural information gap in Uganda.

The initiative has been designed to deliver a bundled service offering accurate weather alerts, agronomic tips and index-based drought insurance to help farmers make informed decisions. An unusual feature is the strong business focus, with a number of private sector partners on board and a design that sets out to create commercial opportunities for a range of players in the selected value chains, currently maize, soybeans, beans and sesame. The ultimate goal is to make the MUIIS system self-supporting, driven by the farmer organisations.

Critical to the success of such an ambitious initiative is the quality of the technical input, with authentic and relevant data that is subsequently transformed into advice for delivery to farmers via mobile phone. For this reason, MUIIS draws substantially on the extensive expertise of six main partners, each of whom brings a particular skillset, as well as a range of other private, public and farmer-based organisations, involved in various activities from helping to build the ICT infrastructure to mobilising farmers.

Already MUIIS has attracted broad interest from the media and beyond. In 2017, the initiative was singled out as inclusive by the New Vision for Development of the World Economic Forum (WEF). And although MUIIS initiative has highlighted the difficulty of convincing smallholder farmers to pay for what many see as intangible benefits, plans are in hand to fine-tune the business model.

This report documents the achievements of MUIIS during the first two years, outlines strategies for full roll-out and identifies opportunities for business partners to engage. As the programme develops, and farmers begin to see the cause and effect relationship between the provision of satellite-based agricultural information and better harvest and market prospects, the initiative is expected to gather increased momentum, with a side effect being the creation of new jobs and income earning opportunities along the value chains.