90% of the world’s farms are family farms and 84% of the world’s farms are small (2 ha or less). The world’s smallholder farmers produce about one-third of the world’s food (by value) using farming practices that are often no longer well adapted to contexts due to climate change. Smallholder farmers deal with challenges of low productivity and low incomes caused by climate change and poor access to information on the latest and best farming practices. This challenge is heightened for sustainable agricultural approaches that often have to be locally adapted and are usually more knowledge-intensive than conventional approaches.
Traditionally, agriculture services and support have been delivered in person through trained technical agriculture personnel also known as agriculture extension workers, who coordinate agriculture activities with groups of farmers across multiple farming activities. With an extension worker to farmer ratio typically much higher than 1:1,000, smallholder farmers are left vulnerable and without adequate support to transition to more sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture.
However, innovative digital tools and approaches provide smallholder farmers with an opportunity to develop pathways to improve their access to support services and knowledge on best practices to increase their productivity, income, sustainability and ultimately resilience to climate change.
farmbetter: Bringing digital advice to farmers
farmbetter is an award-winning mobile application founded in 2019 that uses a farmer’s location, situation and farming goals to put tailored and actionable know-how directly in the hands of the farmer. This farmer digital advisory tool is available for free to download and signup to farmers, extension workers, agriculture experts, etc. on the Google play and app store and has been optimized to work in low internet connectivity areas.
farmbetter works to empower smallholder and medium-sized farmers in Africa and Asia through:
- Cutting edge analytics: farmbetter works by assessing a farmer’s resilience through a short survey and accessing information from databases based on the farmer’s geolocation. This initial step provides data on environmental conditions (e.g. agroecosystem zone, slope, precipitation, soil), how they farm and how they want to improve their farming. In-depth information is provided in text, voice and visually to the farmer to learn and adapt recommendations.
- Tailored recommendations: The approach is innovative in that the knowledge provided is tailored to the situation of each farm, is scientifically validated (by using peer-reviewed databases of best practices such as WOCAT) and allows for multimedia display. Most alternatives focus on text messages or chatbot technology, thus limiting the complexity of information that can be provided to farmers.
- Scalable application: farmbetter is based on the premise that farmers in developing countries lack access to meaningful and targeted information on how to improve their farms. While recommendations are targeted to individual farmers, the platform is scalable worldwide due to the wide range of recommendations in our linked databases.
farmbetter and Grameen join forces
farmbetter and Grameen Foundation are both Global Resilience Partnership Challenge Winners. Grameen Foundation designs digital platforms to help people in developing countries save for their future, invest in their businesses, and improve their farms. At GRP’s Investing in Resilience Forum held in 2019 in London, the farmbetter team was introduced to colleagues at Grameen Foundation USA.
At the event, the challenge winners presented their solutions to donors and investors. All the winners received prior support from GRP’s Incubator in presenting and pitching their work. The event provided an opportunity for the two organisations to learn from each other and to develop a connection that led to the formation of the Agripath project.
Agripath: Sustainable agriculture through digital tools
Agripath offers a learning opportunity for the sector to improve access to agricultural advisory services, especially for women and youth. Using a mixed-methods evaluation approach, including behavioural experiments and randomized controlled trial studies, the project aims to disentangle the impact of digital solutions offered according to three different models:
- Grameen’s agent facilitated model
- farmbetter’s self-service model, and
- a hybrid model with the agent as the main user of advanced app features and farmers using some features by themselves.
Through the project, the farmbetter app will be co-designed, tested, and adapted for the users in the target countries to build a robust digital service platform. The five target countries include Burkina Faso, Uganda, Tanzania, India, and Nepal.
The Agripath project was awarded $7 million in grant funding for a 5-year research for development project by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) implemented by German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). In addition to approximately 50,000 smallholders, Agripath’s primary beneficiaries include 250 extension workers from public and private advisory services in the five target countries. The project will also engage with partners in at least six neighbouring countries to scale its results.
The project is coordinated by the Center for Development and Environment at the University of Berne. The project consortium of researchers and partners include the University of Bern, the University of Lausanne, Grameen Foundation USA and India, and the African research center icipe in Nairobi, as well as farmbetter who will be investigating how to best bridge the gendered gaps in knowledge transfer of resilient, sustainable land management practices.
Through the Agripath project, farmbetter and Grameen Foundation will tackle (female) farmers’ access to digital advice.