Digital Partnerships help transform Agripreneurship in Africa

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across Africa starting in early 2020, it complicated the delivery input distribution to farmers and disrupted agricultural markets, with near devastating effects on agricultural production.

To compound matters, the limitation of movement as a result of the pandemic meant that farmers were suddenly cut off from the critical extension services needed for productive farming. 

This was at a time when East Africa was fighting other challenges, including locust swarms and fall armyworm invasions as well as droughts and floods. These mounting challenges demanded prompt action. 

To avert a pending crisis, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) teamed up with a number of partners to develop and extend digital solutions.

These included digital extension, increasing mechanization solutions to farmers and digitizing data to inform farmers’ production and agricultural markets across the value chain.

AGRA, for example, partnered with technology company CropIn to develop a digital extension program that links farmers to agronomists. 

“There was a critical need to improve and quickly scale up digital extension to ensure that farmers continued to gain access to information, and the inputs they need to sustainably increase productivity and income,” CropIn’s chief revenue officer, Jitesh Shah, said.

Working through a digital platform connecting agronomists to self-employed extension service providers — or village-based advisors (VBAs) — the program is on the path to reaching 3 million farmers in Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Tanzania and Mozambique.

This is achieved through 10,626 VBAs, who receive direction from remotely placed agronomists, information that they then deliver to farmers in their communities.

The Cropin partnership is part of AGRA’s digital strategy that was launched at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) on digital agriculture in 2019. The digital strategy seeks to make it easier for farmers to access inputs and other farming technologies.

This strategy aims to promote digital technologies as an enabler to connect agriculture ecosystems, sustainably integrating governments, markets and villages in the service of strategic value chains. 

In addition, by expanding other successful partnerships with digital-based companies like Hello Tractor in Kenya and Nigeria, Ghana’s TROTRO Tractor and ETC Agro in Tanzania, AGRA has helped increase the access to mechanization services for smallholder farmers like Nigerian maize farmer, Aliyu Ayuba. 

Ayuba would have continued to struggle with the inefficient and tedious manual tilling of his 2-hectare farm, had he not been introduced to Hello Tractor.

Working like popular car-sharing platform Uber, Hello Tractor allows machinery owners to rent them out to farmers. This, ultimately, translates into convenient and affordable mechanization services.

“I am happy that I only paid $100 to Hello Tractor and they completed the job in a day. If the work was done by hand, it would have taken several days to complete,” Ayuba said. 

The amount Ayuba paid was about one-fourth what it previously cost him for manual labor, and the speed of the process now allows him to have his land ready before the rains. 

To increase farmer incomes and close the loop, it is critical to give farmers better access to stronger output markets and timely advisory services through technology firms. 

In Rwanda, Kumwe Harvest strengthens logistics, linking producers and traders to processors. Kumwe Harvest is developing a platform with IBM, another digital partner.

The platform uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to locate maize producers and project yield outcomes for the purpose of sourcing markets by the time the grain is ready. 

So far, the partnership has developed a machine learning model for mapping and locating maize across Rwanda, relying on data collected from about 700 farms. 

Similarly, AGRA partners with Microsoft in Kenya on Agbot, a chatbot providing digital extension and services via SMS, WhatsApp and Telegram.

Over 30,000 farmers (59% of whom are women) have registered for the service, which links them to information that informs their productivity, such as fall armyworm treatments, weather forecasts and inputs referrals.

In addition to farmers, entrepreneurs across the production value chains are also making gains from these digital solutions.

Samuel Ndung’u, a mechanization entrepreneur based in Kenya’s Nakuru County, has seen an increase in income and business efficiency after joining Hello Tractor as a service provider.

Previously, Ndung’u had to contend with unpredictable earnings from his tractor-hire venture, as it was difficult for him to track the amount of work done by his tractors, often due to dishonesty by his drivers. 

“Business was tough before I started using the Hello Tractor application because my drivers were not always honest with the amount of work done — they would tell you they have tilled 5 acres, when in reality they had covered a lot more and kept the extra payments for themselves,” he said.

“After joining Hello Tractor, I now have the ability to track the exact amount of work done by my tractors. Additionally, the application helps me plan my work adequately, because based on the customer bookings through the application, I know how much work I need to cover in a day.”

Source: Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)

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