The data revolution is transforming the traditional role of farmer organisations and cooperatives. What challenges do they face in ensuring that the data revolution benefits their members? Stéphane Boyera explores options, such as providing specialised services and creating farmer profiles.
Farmer organisations (FOs) and cooperatives have traditionally played an important role in society. Indeed, they help to improve their members’ living conditions, particularly the low-income earners. More than 40% of all households in Africa are members
of a cooperative society, and the cooperative movement is Africa’s biggest NGO. But what is their role in the data revolution? How can they both ensure that this data revolution benefits their members, and smallholder farmers in general, and at the same time contribute to the revolution by providing valuable information to policymakers or other stakeholders of the ecosystem?
Providing specialised services
Numerous literature and data (see related links) show that there is a huge gap in terms of productivity for most crops in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions. This gap is also a tremendous opportunity to support smallholder farmers and increase their income and food security. There are a series of challenges at each stage of the crop cycle, and providing the right information or the right instrument at the right time (credit and insurance, for example) can help farmers to bridge at least part of that gap.
The best way to use this information is by providing individual farmers with specialised services. The delivery of these services can largely be supported and improved by using open datasets. The Agriculture Open Data Package is a major resource that identifies high-value data in various agricultural activities. But those datasets are only one part of the picture.
The equation relies on the mash-up of global data (for example, satellite images, research, information databases on crops, seeds, and pest and diseases) with farmer-level (credit records and field ownership documentation) and field-based information (soil information, geographic location, state of the fields and crops) to determine the appropriate individual actionable information.
The result at the farmer level is the availability of new products to support their production (credit and insurance) and timely information to support decision-making.
Creating farmer profiles
Farmer-level and field-based information is local information that can be used to create a profile of farmers. FOs and cooperatives are in the best position to build and maintain those profiles. The value of these profiles, apart from enabling specialised services for farmers, can also benefit other stakeholders, such as cooperatives and FOs themselves. The value of membership profiles spans across many of these organisations’ activities:
- planning and strategy based on real data (identification of new opportunities and new services);
- easier membership management;
- easier communication if the profiling platform includes ICT communication options (such as SMS, IVR and social networking);
- greater advocacy power (ability to show who and where the organisation’s members are, what they do, ability to simulate impact with real data on specific interventions, and the ability to survey members); and
- potential new sources of revenues.
The value of these profiles can also benefit policymakers. At a basic level, policymakers want to speak to the most representative organisations with real data about their membership. The management of profiles is a way to demonstrate this representativeness.
There is a potentially greater impact at the data level, however. Profile information provides disaggregated data at a hyperlocal level. Those data point mainly to the agricultural sector, but given the importance of agriculture in rural areas, these data also provide detailed information on most households. The data stored in profiles, after anonymisation and publication as open data, can contribute to many national datasets:
- core agricultural datasets (land usage and production);
- measurement of public policies impact (reach and impact of subsidies schemes);
- Sustainable Development Goals (contribution to many targets and indicators, such as zero hunger, decent work and economic growth and responsible production); and
- general household data (education, household composition, income and land ownership).
The core question is to know how to build such profiles and its exact content. The set of information largely depends on the usage and focus. Depending on where FOs and cooperatives want to focus their activities, and the type of services they want to offer to farmers, very different information has to be collected. An exhaustive analysis of these data, the currently available technical solutions to store them, the options for collecting and keeping them up to date, but also all the concerns around data ownership and privacy are topics of a larger study funded by CTA through GODAN participation, and realised by SBC4D that will be published soon.