BRIDGING THE GAPS BETWEEN THE AGRI VALUE CHAINS IN AFRICA THROUGH ICT

The Agribusiness sector in Africa, is a sector with many opportunities for the global community. One being that of Geodata and technology.

Geodata and ICT applications help farmers around the world with precision farming. They receive weather information and advice on which seeds or fertilizers to use and when to irrigate their plots. That leads to increased yields and improved quality. This information has not yet been made available to financial institutions at a large scale but it has an enormous potential to increase access to finance for smallholder farmers.

For smallholder farmers who are dependent on the weather and crop cycles, getting the right information on time is critical. Extreme weather events caused by climate change are becoming more frequent and increase the demand for advice on climate-smart agriculture. Because many smallholder farmers lack a formal education, it is important that the information is easy to understand and available in local languages. Finally, farmers may have follow-up questions after receiving the advice, requiring applications to be interactive as well.

For financial service providers, geodata and ICT solutions can also be of great value. By improving smallholder farmers’ productivity and access to markets, farmers’ risk profiles can be lowered. This provides a stimulus for financial institutions to provide more and better financial services to them, thereby increasing outreach. Secondly, geodata and ICT solutions have the potential to substantially reduce transaction and monitoring costs for FSPs. Instead of visiting clients in the field to monitor their farm productivity, a loan officer can now use technology to do so from a distance.

Despite this, much of the potential that ICTs hold for agricultural development remains unrealized, either because apps and information do not exist, or have not been sufficiently refined for intended users, or because potential users do not know about the technology or how to use it.

IMPORTANT FACTORS THAT SHOULD NOT BE OVERLOOKED IN WHEN IMPROVING AGRICULTURAL EFFICIENCY THROUGH ICT :

Technology itself is not sufficient, a well trained team is also required: Case studies show that investing solely in technology will not ensure successful implementation of ICT applications; it is necessary to invest in a team that can effectively perform M&E tasks, as well as to invest in capacity development of the end users who can ensure the sustainability of the project.

Complex ICT or complex platforms are not necessarily essential: Technologies already being used by farmers should be taken into consideration. For example, USAid's Feed the Future project employs a combination of traditional instruments to collect basic data in the field, which is then recorded in Excel sheets and subsequently shared free of cost with potential buyers in real-time through Drop Box.

Contextual factors: Local factors such as the lack of adequate resources must be taken into account beforehand (e.g electricity, gender issues, limited network coverage and low bandwidth, local languages). Implementation approaches need to identify the specific needs of the intended users by working in collaboration with them. There is not one single solution that fits all projects: context, policies, marketing efforts and incentives are all essential factors to ensure participation from community members.

Data integrity and security: Must be ensured throughout the project and when using ICT applications. Experts agreed that leveraging location data and other metadata with individual records helps maintain integrity.

There are remarkable examples of various development agencies currently using ICT for data collection and M&E in the agricultural sector worldwide.

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