Farmer organisations and precision agriculture data services

Chris Addison and Chipo Msengezi

A recent CTA workshop ‘The value of farm data: Farmer-representing organisations and farmer-owned data’ gained insights into the role these groups can play in using and delivering services to the smallholder farmer.

Farmer organisations are building and reinforcing various services to their members delivered through mobile phones. These services, particularly those relating to precision agriculture, are based on one key data input: the farmers’ location and a profile of them and their operations. This farmer profiling is the fundamental foundation for these organisations.

Ishmael Sunga of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions stressed the importance of farmer profiling to farmer organisations’ in a recent interview (on CTA YouTube). He explained that this data not only demonstrates the legitimacy and reach of a farmers’ organisation but also provides precision services. He argues that farmer organisations need to understand the value of the data they have and how they can capitalise on it. Then they can begin to collaborate with partners to deliver data-driven services. The farmers need to understand the potential benefit of their data as it gives them a stronger voice.

On profiling, he concludes:

  • Farmer registration activities can be very costly – in terms of data collection costs and time involved.
  • The process requires a last-mile effort of human contact –someone to explain to the farmer why the data collection is important and collect it face-to-face. It is not easily done remotely via the phone.
  • Be careful about farmers’ ethical and privacy issues.
  • Ask the right questions to get accurate data – and avoid over-collecting data that will not be used.
  • There is a need for public investment in these activities.

Data – on, by, of and for farmers and their products – is bringing in investments in big data, precision agriculture, data-driven agronomy, e-extension and applications –which are turning data into intelligence and improving decision-making and ultimately livelihoods. Better data access and use is increasing the number of products and services of those keen to boost agricultural production and enhance resilience.

Turning this into a reality in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific is still a challenge. It calls for new adapted business models, service design and delivery systems. It means turning data into actionable information, and having clear guidelines around data ownership and use that protect farmers from unfair exploitation.

Mapping data services and products

At a recent workshop organised by CTA participants started by mapping the main result areas where data-driven services for, from and by farmer organisations are taking place. Three broad categories emerged from the exercise:

Data-driven services and products that enhance PRODUCTION include: accessing diagnostics and advice in areas such as agro-climatic forecasts, agronomic advisory recommendations, soil-water, pests and diseases; and accessing early warning on threats though alerts services.

Data-driven services and products that enhance access to TRADE and MARKETS include: accessing markets and customers in areas such as product certification, product tracking and traceability; market information – supply, demand, competition and prices; sourcing knowledge, inputs and advice; knowing value chain actors, networks, expertise and the resources, products and services they provide.

Data-driven services and products that enhance access to FINANCE include: accessing financial services such as banking, insurance, credit, money transfer and microfinance.

Key actions for farmer organisations

The workshop identified key action areas for the future:

  • Having effective data policy, management and systems within an agri-enterprise is essential for its sustainability – data helps drive delivery, advocacy and legitimacy.
  • Developing the overall value proposition of data-driven products and services is critical – providers need to be able to demonstrate it, sell it to investors, and use it to build trust and confidence.
  • Feedback loops need to be built in and are necessary to ensure data ownership and provenance. They also help to ensure that services are connected to the ground, i.e. tailored to needs. Critical actors in these loops are the farm families and producers themselves.
  • Access to markets, consumers and trade opportunities requires certification, which is costly and needs plans covering who pays for it and how quality and integrity of the data can be assured.
  • Building trust is fundamental and needs to be done by building quality relationships with farmers and their organisations and practicing ethics around the ownership of data.
  • Ethical and cost-effective registration and profiles of farmers, agri-producers, customers and other value chain actors are at the core of business models.
  • Capacity development at all levels is key to ensure that there is greater uptake of data-driven services.

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Copyright © 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural Cooperation

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.