Digital Frontiers: Digital for Resilience and Food Security
The primary objective of the Digital for Resilience and Food Security project is to improve agriculture-led economic growth, resilience, nutrition, and water security through digital tools and technologies. By building a robust digital practice, exploring innovative solutions, and expanding access to technology, we can catalyze advancements in the global food systems and achieve USAID’s goals of inclusive economic development.
Launched in 2017, Digital Frontiers is a buy-in mechanism implemented by DAI and available to USAID’s Bureaus and Missions until 2023. Digital Frontiers works closely with a wide variety of international and local actors to identify successful and sustainable digital development approaches and scale their impact globally while offering support in thought leadership, communications, research, and strategy implementation.
Digital Frontiers currently supports the Bureau for Resilience & Food Security with the Digital For Resilience and Food Security (D4RFS) buy-in continuing to build upon the effective Mission support model developed under Digital Development for Feed the Future (D2FTF). D4RFS focuses on building a robust digital practice, incorporating the technical themes of nutrition, water security and sanitation and hygiene, resilience, and agriculture, underpinned by strong evidence and learning on the impact of digital technologies in advancing food systems globally.
Digital Agriculture Ecosystem Assessments
Digital Frontiers works with the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security to build upon the effective Mission support model developed under Digital Development for Feed the Future (D2FTF). This includes supporting various USAID/Missions to better understand, work with, and support digital agriculture ecosystems to meet Missions’ development objectives.
As the number of digital solutions for agriculture continues to grow around the world, an exciting landscape teeming with numerous actors and tools has emerged in Bangladesh. Feed the Future commissioned this study as a follow-on to a 2018 assessment in order to deepen and update its understanding of the country’s digital agriculture landscape. Under Digital Frontiers, Strategic Impact Advisors conducted this assessment March through May of 2020. The report contains the findings of remote consultations with 37 institutional actors in Bangladesh’s agriculture technology sector and 16 digital tool users, including farmers, livestock service providers, and extension workers.
Digital Frontiers conducted two assessments in Burkina Faso and Niger in 2018 and 2019, respectively, to gauge digital tools’ potential to enhance the reach and impact of the USAID Sahel Regional Office’s food security and resilience activities in. This document serves as an umbrella report across the two countries with a short summary of findings and recommended actions.
At the request of the USAID Sahel Regional Office (SRO) in Dakar, the USAID Bureau for Food Security and the U.S. Global Development Lab conducted an assessment of the current and potential use of digital tools in order to enhance the reach and impact of the SRO’s food security and resilience activities under the new U.S. Government Global Food Security Strategy country plan for Niger. The assessment was broadened to include USAID/Burkina Faso given the Mission’s joint resilience programming and relevance as a USAID resilience focus country. This report covers the first part of the joint assessment, which included desk research and field research conducted in Burkina Faso in 2018.
At the request of the USAID Sahel Regional Office (SRO) in Dakar, the USAID Bureau of Food Security and the U.S. Global Development Lab conducted an assessment of the current and potential use of digital tools in order to enhance the reach and impact of the SRO’s food security and resilience activities under the new U.S. Government Global Food Security Strategy country plan for Niger. The assessment was broadened to include USAID/Burkina Faso given the Mission’s joint resilience programming and relevance as a USAID resilience focus country. This report covers the second part of the joint assessment, which included desk research and field research conducted in Niger in 2019.
This assessment, commissioned by USAID/Nepal and conducted by Strategic Impact Advisors under Digital Frontiers in the fall of 2020, assessed the potential to leverage digital technology to support Nepal’s agricultural input systems. USAID hypothesized that digital technology, when deployed effectively, can increase cost and productivity for public and private input service providers, leading to a stronger agricultural sector. The study analyzes and provides recommendations for the market systems and subsidy programs for the inputs of seed, fertilizer, machinery, and irrigation in Nepal.
This Assessment supports USAID/Haiti in better understanding the country’s digital agriculture landscape to inform its current and forthcoming Feed the Future activities. Conducted by Strategic Impact Advisors under Digital Frontiers in 2022, this report provides USAID/Haiti and its partners with recommendations to help strengthen the quantity and quality of digital agriculture services and products available in Haiti, as well as increase the awareness and usage of these services and products.
This Assessment supports USAID/Honduras establish a stronger understanding of the digital agricultural landscape in Honduras. The assessment examines the country’s digital agricultural market ecosystem, taking into consideration both demand and supply factors in addition to supporting functions and regulations. Conducted by Strategic Impact Advisors under Digital Frontiers in 2022, this report provides USAID/Honduras and its partners with recommendations to help strengthen the quality of digital agricultural services available in Honduras (supply) while increasing the awareness and usage of these services (demand).
This assessment, commissioned by USAID/Malawi and conducted by Intellecap Advisory Services under Digital Frontiers in 2022, evaluated the digital agriculture ecosystem in Malawi by assessing the ability and accessibility of foundational digital infrastructure and digital skills for local actors and stakeholders. This report identifies challenges and opportunities in leveraging digital technologies more effectively and in engaging Malawian women and youth in agriculture.
This assessment, commissioned by USAID/Tajikistan and conducted by NIRAS in 2021/22, uses an ecosystem approach to understanding the market landscape and farmer needs as they relate to accessing and using digital tools. This report provides critical insights for Tajikistan’s needs, value chains, sector bottlenecks, and the state of digital connectivity and technology access with the overall aim to explore the potential for digital agriculture services, platforms, systems, and applications (apps).
This assessment, commissioned by USAID Uganda and conducted by NIRAS in November 2021, built a knowledge base to inform the Missions’ digital agriculture activities and investment. This report provides insights into the opportunities and challenges faced by digital agriculture service providers, farmer incentives for using digital agriculture applications as well as what has worked and/or failed in previous programs designed to increase adoption of digital technologies in the sector. This report could be used by stakeholders working to progress the development of the digital agriculture ecosystem in Uganda as an enabler to increasing agriculture productivity, farmers’ incomes and household food security.
Digital Profiles highlight the many ways that digital tools are being used globally to advance inclusive, agriculture-led growth; resilience; nutrition; and water security, sanitation, and hygiene to accelerate and protect development progress.
With support from USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia, led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center—along with partners from academia and both research and extension services, including the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation—developed an Early Warning System for Wheat Blast that is being deployed in parts of Brazil and on a national scale in Bangladesh.
The Feed the Future Uganda Youth Leadership for Agriculture (YLA) Activity, implemented by Chemonics International from 2015 to 2020, focused on increasing economic opportunities for 350,000 Ugandan youth. As part of its strategy to promote youth involvement in agriculture, YLA partnered with Equator Seeds Limited (ESL), one of the fastest growing seed companies in Uganda to streamline ESL’s supply chain and extension system.
The USAID Nobo Jatra project, implemented by World Vision, works to improve gender equitable food security, nutrition, and resilience for vulnerable populations in southwest Bangladesh. The project baseline showed 28.6% prevalence of stunting among children under five, underscoring the severity of need for improved nutrition outcomes in the region. Nobo Jatra employs multiple digital solutions, such as digital cash transfers, to most effectively and efficiently transform nutrition outcomes.
The Feed the Future NOURISH project, implemented by Save the Children and its partners, worked to improve the nutritional status and well-being of women and children in Cambodia. Rooted in a community-led approach, the project included a conditional cash transfer program and mobile app for the “first thousand days”—from pregnancy through the child’s first two years of age—for low-income women. Eligible families could receive up to six payments over this period; funds were transferred directly to over 20,000 women’s bank accounts upon completion of specific health and nutrition activities.
In 2019, under the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), American Red Cross partnered with AtmaGo, a social networking app focused on community engagement and resilience, to improve earthquake preparedness. Community disaster preparedness workers and volunteers were trained as citizen journalists to create relevant posts on AtmaGo. In six months, the platform gained 75,000 new users in the target areas, and community knowledge and action to better prepare for earthquakes increased.
The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Markets, Risk, and Resilience (MRR Lab) developed an experimental, digitized game to try to make the value proposition for insurance more relatable to pastoralists. Instead of using theoretical arguments about hypothetical situations and risk, Sim Pastoralist takes players through a realistic journey across multiple seasons as a pastoralist, giving them the opportunity to virtually experience up to 100 seasons as they make different decisions about insurance and observe the long-term consequences.
Haiti’s decentralized water utilities across the country are intended to operate as self-reliant business units. However, an absence of information management has hindered efficient operations and revenue collection. The USAID Water and Sanitation Project helps local utilities adopt existing digital technologies to better collect and use data on their water networks.
Led by Millennium Water Alliance, the Kenya Resilient Arid Lands Partnership for Integrated Development (RAPID) is a five-year USAID program that increases communities’ access to water services in northern Kenya. In response to significant challenges and limitations with community management of water infrastructure, the project has leveraged multiple uses of digital technology to improve efficiency, reliability, and access at scale.
Digital Solutions in Agriculture Market Systems in Response to COVID-19
The results of this Rapid Analysis as well as the accompanying series of Guidance Documents highlight the digital tools and services market actors adopted in order to overcome various disruptions caused by COVID-19. The Guidance Documents outline the problem, identify and analyze emerging trends, provide illustrative examples, and include both an implementation checklist and actionable recommendations.
Digital transformation accelerated in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted the world. To withstand pandemic-related challenges, across the agriculture market system, actors—from farmers and input providers to retailers and exporters—began incorporating digital solutions into their daily operations. While this transition to digital ways of working comes with the promise of positive outcomes, it is accompanied by barriers and risks that could negatively affect the adoption and impact of digital solutions. In an effort to support market system actors as they navigate the challenges and opportunities associated with this digital transformation, USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security commissioned a rapid analysis to identify and analyze trends driving the adoption of digital tools in the agriculture market system in response to the global pandemic.
Guidance Document: E-Commerce Marketplaces
COVID-19–related restrictions have forced agriculture market actors to find safer substitutes for in-person interactions and transactions. While these actors searched for alternative ways to connect with buyers and sellers, households, especially those in urban areas, faced lockdowns that required them to find new ways to purchase everything from meat and produce to household goods. E-Commerce marketplaces allowed these necessary translations to continue safely, speedily and with more opportunities for economic growth.
Guidance Document: Farmer Management Solutions
Due to COVID-19 restrictions prohibiting face-to-face meetings and other information-sharing channels, agriculture market actors have experienced challenges in the quality and flow of information to their various farmer groups and cooperatives. In response, farmer groups are leveraging farmer management solutions to facilitate digital communication between members, dispel misinformation and disinformation, share updates on market and border closures, and more.
Guidance Document: Expanding Mobile Phone Access and Ownership
During the pandemic, mobile phones emerged as a critical tool in helping agriculture market actors respond to market disruptions. Unfortunately, many market actors still do not own mobile phones for a variety of reasons. To expand access to mobile phones and increase mobile phone ownership, USAID and its implementing partners should consider creative strategies, such as asset financing models, bulk purchasing, installment payment plans, and more.
Digital for Resilience and Food Security
These factsheets explore the different ways USAID and its Bureau for Resilience and Food Security utilize digital technologies.
USAID seeks to use digital technology to help people around the world lead more prosperous and resilient lives. Digital technology offers the potential to predict shocks (e.g., droughts, floods, and disease outbreaks) and mitigate their impacts, help communities recover, and equip them to better withstand future shocks. While digital technology offers exciting potential, gaps in the access to, use of, or benefits from technologies among vulnerable populations should be carefully considered, given the potential for exclusion and exacerbation of inequalities.
Digital tools can help achieve agriculture-led growth by improving the agricultural productivity, livelihoods, and overall market inclusion of smallholder farming families and others in the food system. Digital agriculture can support data-driven decision-making that levels the playing field and reduces asymmetric information throughout the market system. It can also incentivize and encourage greater involvement of youth in agriculture-led growth by engaging them through digital channels. Programs should account for the potential challenges and limitations as well as solutions and opportunities that digital agriculture services may offer.
In the area of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), digital tools can improve asset management and service delivery, monitor and predict water resource availability, strengthen payment systems, and influence individual behaviors. Digital solutions for WASH are at varying stages of development and demonstration of results and sustainability. As the field continues to evolve, it is critical to understand and plan around the challenges of using digital solutions and to recognize the risks of exacerbating inequalities presented by digital divides—gaps in digital technology access, literacy, and adoption that exist between populations (e.g., urban and rural, male and female).
Digital solutions have the potential to unlock new opportunities that strengthen the ability of food systems to provide safe and nutritious foods for all. Sensitive to price margins within the food system, some solutions may emerge first in more developed markets. However, as the field continues to evolve, it is critical to pursue inclusive approaches and plan around challenges and the risk of exclusion presented by digital divides—gaps in digital technology access, literacy, and adoption that exist between populations (e.g., urban and rural, male and female).
USAID believes digital technology is transforming how people across the world access information, goods, services, and has the power to rapidly accelerate developing countries’ economic growth. This belief has inspired USAID to launch its first ever Digital Strategy, which provides a vision for how the agency can leverage digital tools and solutions in ways that advance the growth of thriving countries. This strategy is part of a broader agency effort to better organize and deploy digital expertise within USAID through a variety of both internal and external sources. This factsheet highlights some of the key digital knowledge resources available to USAID staff and partners.
Research, Knowledge Sharing & Other Tools
This infographic explores how digital tools help build resilience by serving common purposes related to data collection, behavior change and knowledge, payments, and predictions and risk management across agricultural-led growth, WASH, and nutrition activities.
Through a grant co-funded by USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a team from Cornell University explored the question: how is the proliferation of digital technology and data analytics in agriculture contributing to the lives of farmers and agricultural service providers in low- and middle-income countries? This website provides access to the final reports, datasets, and an Evidence Gap Map that explores the state of evidence gleaned from researchers and practitioners throughout the field.
ICTforAg is a global convening which brings together agri-food system actors from across the globe to: enhance knowledge sharing on the application of digital tools and technologies throughout food systems, catalyze strategic relationships across actors, and emphasize the importance of inclusion and closing the digital divide. On the ICTforAg website you can find past ICTforAg event agendas, session recordings, reports, and other resources.
This Planning Tool was developed by USAID and seeks to provide a simple framework for determining if digital technology may be useful for certain activity scenarios. It will not answer exactly how digital technology can be used for each case, as the answer is always highly contextualized. However, it will help point you in the right direction, no matter where you are in the program cy