ICTs are helping millions of smallholder family farmers in developing countries gain better access to information, tools and technology that can transform their livelihoods. Indeed, ICTs help family farmers sell and market their produce, boost their ability to cope with dwindling access to water, land and soil nutrients, and deal with the extreme climate events, pests and diseases that affect their crops. If more of these ICT solutions are tailored to the needs of smallholder family farmers and put within their reach – especially the women farmers who form the bulk of this group – then their agriculture can rapidly move from being a subsistence activity to a successful and sustainable business.
Agriculture is becoming more market oriented globally. Individual family farmers, however, are finding it increasingly difficult to participate in markets – not only in national and international markets, but even in local ones. Smallholder farmers have small amounts of farm produce to market but often do not have access to systems of communication, finance and transport. If they could somehow aggregate their produce and collectively synchronise their production and marketing systems, then they would be able to enter these markets more easily as a collective.
ICTs can help smallholder farmers improve their production systems so they can fetch better prices, avoid gluts and have the critical mass to grow market-led crops. Conventionally, this is done by cooperatives and farmer organisations, which bring together farmers. These organisations help reduce weaknesses in the value chain. In most developing countries, however, these organisations are weak and often face constraints in planning and monitoring production systems and setting up logistics for an efficient marketing system.
Some cooperatives have tried to overcome these constraints by taking control of the land of participating farmers. This approach, however, diminishes the opportunity for family farmers to participate in the decision-making processes that impact their livelihoods, and so ultimately this approach has failed.
ICTs now provide the potential to overcome these constraints. They can help family farmers coordinate their planning and monitoring of production and marketing systems by virtually aggregating data, without cooperatives having to take over the land or do the decision making for their farms. Access to credit, financial and insurance services for family farmers has been a major constraint to improving their farming and incomes. With the increasing availability of mobile phones and the internet, smallholder farmers can now access financial services much more easily.
ICTs also allow family farmers to see their farm processes from many different viewpoints, and this enables them to make more sound economic and environmental decisions. Access to ICTs and information also increases their technological literacy. A farmers’ organisation that uses ICTs can now support individual farmers by suggesting what crops they should grow, and where, when and how to market them with these ICT-run systems. These systems can also help farmers organise and plan inputs. Connectivity also gives smallholders easy access to knowledge-based services that help farmers to solve farming problems.
Precision technology and land rights
Cloud-based data, application services and the wide availability of smartphones and ‘phablets’ have made precision technology – such as mapping systems with high resolution and three-dimensional maps – more widely
In this issue
Ajit Maru, co-organiser of the AgriFuture Days 2014 Conference held in Villach, Austria from 16 to 18 June and guest editor of this issue of ICT Update, summarises the key points that were raised and discussed during the conference.
ICTs are transforming the lives of family farmers, giving them better access to information, markets, services and inputs, and making them more resilient to external shocks.