International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

Leave no farmer behind: Revolutionizing Digital Agricultural Extension in Africa

Lead Organization

International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

Palmira, Departamento del Valle del Cauca, Colombia

http://www.ciat.cgiar.org

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Agriculture will be essential to spurring economic growth and feeding Africa and the world, but mass-scale adoption of modern agricultural practices will be necessary. Currently, technical support to African farmers is provided primarily by state-run extension services. However, these services have been perennially underfunded, failing to deliver their full potential. This can change. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is digital, and will be a game changer for African agriculture. Armed with mobile phones, even the remotest farmer could get real-time access to market prices, novel technologies, and expert advice on farming choices. Together with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) proposes a digital extension service for 11 Sub-Saharan countries. Building an economy of scale, the service will significantly enhance information access for 100+ million farmers, thus improving their livelihoods. The project will explicitly target farmers marginalized from existing support mechanisms.

Problem Statement

Agriculture is the sole source of livelihood for 300m rural people living in our 11 target countries: Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique. It is also an important driver of economic growth. But agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa faces unprecedented challenges – harsh growing conditions, unpredictable weather, labor shortages – and the resources to deal with them are scarce. For these farmers, publicly funded advisors often represent their only link to information on improved farming practices, markets, weather, and even health and nutrition.Centralized public extension models were extremely successful during the 1950s-60s Green Revolution but are less nimble in meeting today’s market demands[1]. Especially in heterogeneous environments like Sub-Saharan Africa, these systems are challenged by underfunding and overstretched extension agents. In Mozambique, for example, an extension worker is often responsible for reaching 7,000 farmers, instead of the recommended 500, while lacking transportation, capital, oversight, and support services. They are hampered by inadequate training for the many facets of extension work, including agronomy, nutrition, gender, social issues, and environmental quality. The resulting ineffectuality of public extension leads to further funding cuts, creating a vicious cycle. Without a dramatic paradigm shift, the odds will remain stacked against traditional extension, and millions of farmers will be left behind in the race to adapt to changing climates and volatile markets. We need a solution that is inexpensive, nimble, scalable, and accessible to every farmer, regardless of wealth, gender, age, education, ethnicity, or geography. That solution is digital.

Solution Overview

Data-powered smallholder agriculture stands to improve livelihoods and food security for over 100 million farmers in our 11 target countries. Our vision is a smartphone for every extension agent, enabling them to collect data, show instructional videos, engage domain experts, and follow up on site visits remotely. We envision farmers with access to actionable, real-time, and site-specific information through an array of digital platforms.To achieve this, a Digital Extension Secretariat hosted by AGRA will interface with national extension systems in the 11 countries, responding to their needs and priorities. A data and analytical platform will be developed to coordinate digital extension across the region. For farmer outreach, we will first generate tailored digital solutions by working with district extension agents and an existing network of 27,000 Village-Based Advisors (VBAs). VBAs are local complements to extension agents who link farmers to improved commercial seeds and inputs, buyers and markets, and knowledge on best management practices. Second, we will mainstream successful innovations into public extension systems and implement capacity building for extension operators to fully capitalize on digital tools.We can effectively reduce the extension agent-to-farmer ratio to a more acceptable 1:500 by equipping 27,000 VBAs and extension agents with a smartphone, and by building technical capacity and support services. By increasing the number of farmers a single agent can reasonably reach per day we ensure 100m farmers receive “last mile” access to inputs and services, correcting information asymmetries that otherwise result in lost yields, uncaptured value, and stalled innovation.

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