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Data4Ag impacts for farmers and for policy

CTA supported digital solutions – including geo-farmer registration and drone trials – have increased the resilience and sustainability of livelihoods for NUCAFE members

© NUCAFE

CTA’s Data4Ag project has introduced digital solutions in Africa to assist farmers’ organisations in registering their members to offer targeted agricultural services. Whilst impacts from the field have been impressive, questions have been raised around the collection and use of farmer data, and the need for policy development.

CTA’s Data4Ag project focuses on one of the key enablers of change and collective operation in agricultural production; the farmer organisation (FO). There are 700 million smallholders around the world with as many as 300 million coming from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. In some African countries, smallholders contribute up to 70% of agricultural production.

Over 4 years, the Data4Ag project has worked with the Pan African Farmers Organisation to ask FO members from across the continent about the core development needs for their associations. All respondents mentioned digital farmer registration services as key to enhancing operations as this would enable the provision of targeted services.

Since 2016, the Data4Ag project has supported seven initiatives across Africa (outlined in ICT Update Issue 89) to register more than 120,000 farmers. The process validated approaches to digitalising farmer registration and produced lessons on capacity building for FO development – as well as raised policy issues around data privacy. The results from these projects have been used as inputs for a massive open online course on farm data management, developed by the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) Action network.

Examples from the field

The confederation of agricultural producers for development in Burundi (CAPAD) has supported 39 smallholder cooperatives to register over 14,000 farmers (55% women), and has issued all members with an ID card. The data collected has enabled FOs to better plan for the 2019 and 2020 seasons through bulk ordering of, for example, mineral fertilisers (1,059 t), rice seed (27 t) and corn seed (18 t). Collection of the farmer information has also facilitated rapid processing of applications for agricultural credit and as a result, 2,896 FO members have received obtain BIF 214,275,049 (>€100,000). Digital membership has also allowed cooperatives to better organise their post-harvest management and marketing of agricultural products; so far in 2019, 4,052 t of rice, 132 t of maize and 131 t of beans have been sold collectively. New CAPAD membership cards

CTA-supported digital solutions, including farmer registration and drone trials, have increased the resilience and sustainability of livelihoods for Ugandan coffee farmers of the National Union of Coffee agribusinesses and farm Enterprises (NUCAFE). The innovations have doubled production and productivity for farmers, increased their access to finance and premium markets, and raised incomes by over 30%. With the use of digital tools, coffee can be traceably and transparently handled, and for this information, buyers are willing to pay a premium price. NUCAFE can now prove its coffee supplies are grown above a certain altitude – an indication of higher quality beans – and buyers from South Korea, for example, are now interested in the product.

The number of profiled NUCAFE farmers has reached 14,000 farmers and as a result, the Union is now a Fairtrade certified ‘conveyor’ – passing on the Fairtrade minimum price and/or premium to producers. With this recognition, Fairtrade-certified coffee sales are expected to increase from 38.4 t worth around €160,000 in 2018 to 210 t worth €875,000 in 2019/2020 – despite a 13-year low in world coffee markets.

The Igara Growers Tea Factory (IGTF) also benefits from CTA’s support in developing data driven services for farmer members. The instalment of 40 digital weighing scales, for instance, is helping the agribusiness to pay for farmers’ raw material on receipt, and delivery records for over 4,000 farmers are stored by the new systems. Digital profiling of farmers has captured their locations and farm size information, which means field extension services are better targeted and produce quality has improved. This is reflected in the price received at the tea auction market where IGTF is earning more than its competitors. Local youths are now also involved in the initiative, with over 40 using mobile apps to collect tea from the farmer members, and 70 are using GPS-enabled tablets to validate farmer data for the profiling platform.

Research consultations

An e-discussion on FAO’s e-agriculture website, held in 2018 with the Data4Ag team and researchers from Wageningen University and Research (WUR), resulted in a mix of insights regarding data driven services for agriculture from the perspectives of research and practical application. The services discussed ranged from farmer registration and extension, to access to credit and markets.

There were a number of issues raised by the researchers from WUR, the project partners and external companies involved in the data services regarding the collection of data from the farmer registration process. The concerns have been published in various studies, and include the following:

  • “The primary farmer may not be head of the household.” (Kelly et al., 2016); 
  • “Development policies in Malawi still largely consider men as ‘the farmers’ and therefore neglect female farmers and the complexity of gender relations.” (Chinyamunyamu, 2014);
  • “Farmers who share a SIM are unable to use the mobile phone number as a unique identifier.” (CGAP, 2014);
  • “Coops need to be pragmatic in applying the traditional principle of open membership, in order to avoid the inclusion of free-riders and the risk to end up with a production that exceeds market demand.” (Francesconi & Wouterse, 2017).

One of the main emerging issues of data driven approaches in agriculture, as highlighted by the discussion, was the need for farmers to have their say in the use of their data. For this reason, the Data4Ag project dedicated part of the project to support FOs in controlling the use of farmer data.

Research into policy

Together with the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation and GODAN, CTA investigated how farmers could have a say in the exchange of their data to access agricultural services. It was noted that whilst legislation on data privacy is starting to emerge, the situation regarding data services is far from clear. Instead, countries and regions are developing codes of conduct regarding how data is exchanged.

Following a series of CTA workshops, convened together with the Association for Technology and Structures in Agriculture, it became apparent that there was a need to break down information regarding data control into modules to provide FOs with a set of data privacy codes of conduct.

The following points were also discussed at the workshops:

  1. The need for trust centres (units that handle data management and control) social responsibility mechanisms (i.e. certifications such as Fairtrade) and business models that enable an equitable share of proceeds from data usage.
  2. The key role of farmer associations and the creation of data cooperatives for data exchange and collective negotiation of data rights.
  3. The need for national and international policies, international agreements and treaties that enable fair data flows and counter power imbalances around data ownership.
  4. A need to evaluate the application of existing relevant data laws (privacy, business data, database copyright), avoid the development of new specific laws which cannot be enforced, and replace them with voluntary codes of conduct for data exchange.

A number of policy issues arose from the Data4Ag project, which have been raised by the FOs and were subsequently included in major strategy plans for digitalisation, such as the Africa EU rural taskforce and the FAO digital council. Through a series of three ministerial meetings, pledges are being sought to open up more agricultural data for use by farmers. Already, 12 African countries have committed to open their data as a result.

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Over the last 20 years, ICT Update has followed and reported on the rapidly changing landscape in ICTs for agriculture and digitalisation of the sector. The definition of digitalisation for agriculture, according to "The Digitalisation of African Agriculture Report, 2018-2019", “is the use of digital technologies, innovations, and data to transform business models and practices across the agriculture value chain, including production, postharvest handling, market access, finance and supply chain management".

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CTA’s Data4Ag project has introduced digital solutions in Africa to assist farmers’ organisations in registering their members to offer targeted agricultural services. Whilst impacts from the field have been impressive, questions have been raised around the collection and use of farmer data, and the need for policy development.

External links

Past issues

ICT Update N. 91

Next-generation ACP agriculture - innovations that work

ICT Update N. 90

Women and Digitalisation in Agriculture

ICT Update N. 89

Data4Ag: New opportunities for organised smallholder farmers

ICT Update N. 88

Unlocking the potential of blockchain for agriculture

View all