Rwandan agrodealer’s shop may still be small, but her ideas are big

By Alice Marks

DSC_0230

Odette Dusabuwera in her agrodealer shop

The inability to access inputs is often cited as a major barrier to increasing the productivity of farms and improving the livelihoods of rural farmers. One Acre Fund (OAF), known as Tubura in Rwanda, has served more than 113,500 farmers since it started operations in the country in 2007, and now employs more than 1,400 staff members. One of their programs aims to tackle this barrier by working with agrodealers, providing them with credit for OAF seed and other inputs, such as much-needed fertiliser so that they can stock their shops with good quality products. OAF-supported agrodealers can expect to make US$2000-3000 per year in profit.

On a recent visit to Rwanda, OAF took us to meet Odette Dusabuwera, an agrodealer from Rubengera, in Western Rwanda, to find out how this approach was working for the agrodealers and farmers. [Read more…]

Five fresh facts from the Smallholder Diaries

Guest blog by Jamie Anderson, CGAP

MOZ_1

Credit: CGAP

How are smallholder families managing their money? What challenges do they face? And what financial solutions can help?

Getting answers to these questions called for a year of data collection and thousands of conversations with farming families in three distinct markets. Researchers with CGAP’s Financial Diaries with Smallholder Households (‘Smallholder Diaries”) visited with 270 farming families in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Pakistan every two weeks from June 2014 to July 2015 to track how they were earning money, how they were spending it, and their agricultural activities. They also recorded all the ups and downs these families faced, from births and deaths to droughts and floods, offering a unique window onto their financial and agricultural lives.

So what did we learn? And how can these insights shape financial solutions for smallholder families? Five fresh facts emerge from the Smallholder Diaries.

  1. Mobile money was nearly absent.

Expectations are high for digital financial solutions, but our research indicates that this technology may not be an easy solution for the financial challenges facing many smallholder families. [Read more…]

Six fascinating talks exploring digital technology, agriculture and social change

Bonney et al., 2014

Photo credit: Bonney et al., 2014

The digital transformation of agriculture and other sectors has been occurring for a while now but there is much potential still to be discovered. These video resources not only discuss new ways digital technology can be harnessed but the challenges we face in utilising Information and Communications Technology for broader social change.

 

  1. Food Tank Webinar Series: Digital Agriculture with David Bergvinson

Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of Food Tank, talks to Dr. Bergvinson on creating equitable opportunities for smallholder farmers to realize their full potential by utilising digital technology (mobile, cloud computing, social media, and big data analytics) along the agriculture value chain.

  1. TEDx: How can Digital Agriculture Feed Nine Billion People

Jim Ethington, technologist and entrepreneur with 15 years of experience building data analytics and machine learning products, discusses how the use of big data can help solve world hunger problems. For the last 6 years, Jim has been focused on the problem of how we can apply data science to farming. As the VP of Product at The Climate Corporation, he leads product design and development for a suite of products that provide insights and recommendations to farmers that help them to grow crops more efficiently and effectively.

  1. TEDx: Why digital transformation has little to do with technology!

Tobias Burkhardt, founder of the SHIFTSCHOOL for digital transformation, talks about our fears over an increasingly digital future. Exponential computing power and intelligent algorithms drive human productivity into another dimension and new technologies disrupt long established business models before lunch. He explores why only a small digital elite sees the potential while the majority of people are either afraid, ignorant or overconfident when it comes to a digital future. He explains that the answer is deeply routed in our middle class intellectual way of thinking of how to educate our children and how to live a successful life. It is not the technology but our mindsets that threaten our future wellbeing. [Read more…]

Accelerating change for smallholders with digital technology

By Alice Marks

13950908853_b4cba2cd9e_o

Using drones for agriculture. Credit: Lima Pix (Flickr)

According to experts at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, we are sitting on the edge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This revolution builds on the third, which was the digital revolution, and is predicted to blur the lines between the physical and digital world through innovations such as artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, and the use of Big Data, which will integrate digital technologies into daily lives ever more closely. It is predicted to be exponentially fast and far reaching in its scope and impact, transforming entire production, governance and management systems in an unprecedented way. Whether this will mean “promise or peril” for humanity will likely only be clear with the benefit of hindsight, but optimists hope that it offers the opportunities to improve lives and help to eradicate poverty through improved connectivity and better access to resources.

The fourth revolution, or ‘Industry 4.0’, will build on the digital revolution, but there is still work to be done on bringing the digital revolution to developing countries, particularly to rural areas. Digital technology has the potential to accelerate change and reduce isolation for rural people, while agricultural development has the potential to support the reduction of inequality and diminish poverty gaps. Put the two together, and there could be a plethora of new opportunities for smallholder farmers. For example, electricity, internet and cell coverage can help smallholder farmers to access information on best prices, weather forecasts, and allow them to share knowledge and expertise. [Read more…]

What urbanisation means for rural areas in Africa

By Katrin Glatzel

Alvise Forcellini 2006 urbanisation blog

Credit: Alvise Forcellini, 2006

“How to feed our cities? Agriculture and rural areas in an era of urbanisation” – that was the theme of the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, or for short, the GFFA, hosted in Berlin in mid-January. With Habitat III taking place in October in Quito, Ecuador, urbanisation features on top of the agenda of many meetings and conferences in 2016 including the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual flagship report and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). These forums are important as they draw attention to what urbanisation will mean for rural areas, the agriculture sector and those millions of smallholder farmers, upon which urban areas rely for their food supply. This is particularly important in a developing country context.

Urban and rural transformation

According to UN figures, in 1950 only about a third of the world’s population lived in cities, but rapid population growth has led to increased urbanisation, which has seen this figure rise to 54% in 2014. As this trend is set to continue, by 2050 over two-thirds of the global population will live in urban and peri-urban areas. Take for example Nigeria. Under current trends, by 2050, at 397 million, Nigeria’s population would be larger than Central Africa’s population in its entirety. Lagos’ population of 17.9 million is set to double by mid-century. This has a significant impact for the development of rural areas and our food systems. In order to support growing urban areas, to improve rural livelihoods, reduce poverty and to lower Africa’s food import bills, local agricultural sectors in the rural and peri-urban areas will need to adapt to an increased demand for food and changing diets. Pressure on natural resources, such as water, and climate change make the sustainable production of nutritious and affordable food ever more challenging. [Read more…]

Seeds, superfoods and soils for resilience, oh my!

By Emily Alpert

Smallholder farmers in Africa are no strangers to climate change. The first impacts can already be felt. Erratic rainfall, shorter growing seasons and prolonged droughts mean that crops suffer, as do the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. To meet the demands of a growing global and African population, crop productivity will have to be increased. Under climate change conditions, this will have to be achieved with fewer resources and smarter interventions. Seeds, superfoods, and soils all offer some solutions.

Seeds

Farmer resilience to climate change can be strengthened in many ways: income diversification, secure land rights or better access to insurance policies are all examples. Resilience can also come in the form of a seed.

Drought-tolerant maize varieties hope to do just that. These seeds are bred with the ability to withstand periods of low and erratic rainfall. The public-private partnership Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), developed under the coordination of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), aims to develop drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize using conventional breeding, marker-assisted selection, and biotechnology, with a goal to make these varieties available royalty-free to smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa through African seed companies. So far, conventional drought-tolerant maize hybrids – varieties developed by crossing two inbred lines – have been released in Kenya and South Africa. [Read more…]

What is the role for citizen science in a Big Data Revolution?

By Katrin Glatzel

One of the recommendations of the new Montpellier Panel report ‘No Ordinary Matter: Conserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soils’ suggests that a Big Data Revolution is needed to fill the huge gaps in data availability, especially in Africa. Regularly updated data on soil types, locations, qualities and degradation ought to be significantly enhanced and the information made available in a timely manner to allow for the targeted and selective use of inputs. Getting this data, however, is not an easy task and would require scores of researchers and public sector funding – and time. The use of advanced remote-sensing systems, dense networks of local weather information and citizen science can help to provide this information.

Citizen science, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (2014) as the “scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions” is one way to generate scientific data on a much broader spatial and temporal scale. While there are concerns about the quality of data derived through non-experts, monitoring and evaluation processes, targeted training programmes, verification tools, as well as  novel data analysis techniques,  to name but a few, can help to improve the quality and flow of data.

[Read more…]