Marc Ghislain Bappa Se and Nestor Ngouambe discuss opportunities for farmers’ organisations to harness data-driven agriculture to facilitate market access for smallholder farmers in Cameroon. Taking the PIDMA project as an example, they argue that supporting farmers’ organisations’ capacity to capitalise on data is crucial for farmers to efficiently and effectively tap into the ‘data value chain’ sphere.
Information and communication technologies (ICT) are increasingly used to generate efficiency gains for farmers. There is an exponential increase in information and data associated with new applications, tools, actors, and business models for data-driven agriculture. Open data is, however, still a relatively new concept, and there remains a vast, untapped potential for data-driven innovation. Data for agriculture is expected to enhance agricultural productivity and resilience, reduce risks and make agri-food market chains more efficient and accessible.
Farmers’ organisations are considered key in enhancing farmers’ access to wider markets. The benefits of formal farmers’ organisation are most evident in high-value commodity value chains and long market chains. These chains, associated with high transaction costs, are less accessible for individual smallholder farmers, whereas a collective approach enables farmers to share and reduce costs and risks, access information and comply with supply requirements.
Harnessing the value chain data ecosystem
Beyond technological innovation, data for and from farmers has become a growth area, driving projects on big data, blockchain technology, precision agriculture, farmer profiling and e-extension all over Africa. On farm management level, commercial farmers record and monitor empirical business data throughout agribusiness processes, such as inputs purchasing, feeding, seeding and fertilisation, and metadata (‘data about data’, such as time, location, standards used, etc.). Such data is needed to monitor performance and make management-decisions to improve production. The flow between raw data, data analysis and decision-making forms the ‘data value chain’. At market level, data sharing among value chain actors not only supports traceability, productivity, monetary flows and transactions, but also creates opportunities to access new markets in new territories.
In Cameroon, most individual small-scale farmers and farmers’ associations are not yet harnessing data to increase their market access. Thus, it is critical to demonstrate the opportunities and potential that hide behind the use of data to ease farmer business operations and management, for improved productivity and profitability.
In this framework, the Agricultural Investment and Market Development Project (PIDMA) recently developed a new approach to enhance farmers’ organisations acquisition and use of data to improve market accessibility. PIDMA is a joint initiative of the Cameroon Government and World Bank, aimed at improving the productivity and competitiveness of maize, cassava and sorghum value chains and at scaling up production to meet the raw material demands of local agro industries. This ag-finance project invests in all value chain segments and strengthen the functional relationships between production, processing and marketing. The project aims to move from subsistence agriculture characterised by low productivity to commercial agriculture equipped with competitive value chains.
Cashing on cassava and sorghum
Cassava, among the top five high-value food crops in Cameroon, is a major staple commodity and since Cameroon’s independency, its production has tripled to average 2,109,040 MT per year. Embedding many business opportunities, cassava is a delicacy in many cultural dishes and farmers’ organisation are increasingly venturing into this value chain. Sorghum production in the far northern region of Cameroon, one of its most important production areas, peaked at 411,499 t in 2014 and should reach 2,000,000 MT by 2020.
By harnessing agribusiness data, farmers’ organisations can professionalize their business operations, enhance their credibility and capitalise market opportunities. However, for smallholders to benefit from data-driven agriculture, tools and applications need to be designed for their specific situations and capacities. They – and the organisations that support them – need to grow their capacities to become smart data users and managers; measures are needed to ensure that farmer-generated data is not exploited or misused; and smallholders, usually the least powerful actors of a value chain, must grasp every opportunity to be included in the collective data flows within agri-food systems.