Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Are Digital Solutions Good for Farmers?

This is the second of a two-part blog series that originally appeared on the Data Driven Farming Prize website and was written by Eleonora Corsini. The first blog can be found here.

We crossed a few fields and traveled a fragmented and dusty road to arrive at Jalala village, our second location for our field visit. Jalala village is in the Nepalganj region of Nepal’s Terai plains and home to the first group of farmers we consulted (14 in total). We wanted to make sure Feed the Future’s Data Driven Farming Prize addressed their needs by hearing first-hand accounts of their daily lives and experiences.

For many traditional Nepali families in Jalala, the day starts with an early wake up call, morning prayers and a quick snack before starting work. Most men go into the fields, while women generally send the children to school (when it is too expensive to send all the children to school, young girls help on the farm, while boys attend school) and cook. Around 11 in the morning, families come together to eat lunch and work: men usually continue to plough and till while women weed and seed the fields. Resources are scarce, and farmers use manual techniques that are time-consuming and require heavy lifting. After ten hours in the fields, the family returns home to eat dinner.

Although the daily life of farmers in this area is routine, farming is inherently uncertain and faces threats from natural disasters, drought, market fluctuations and market inaccessibility. Farmers aspire to have growing and more stable steadier streams of income, and families struggle to pay annual fees to lease a plot (about 50,000 Nepali rupees, or nearly $470 U.S. dollars). Regular expenses are exacerbated by unreliable yields, spoilage and weak, inconsistent markets for their crops.

Many of the farming families we spoke with expressed a need for better tools to manage this uncertainty and plan for the future.

At first, it was unclear how digital solutions might solve these problems. Yet, when we started exploring the needs farmers wanted to address, we learned that there was a big thirst for reliable and actionable agricultural knowledge.

“We don’t know how to identify and treat diseases, how to use pesticides. We need to know how to make better use of our resources, what to farm and when.” Apaiman, a mother of six, explained.

“We need to be alerted to the new technologies that can help us, and how we might bring our products to the market. We also need to know market prices for our crops,” added Sadamsa, a father of eight.

Information is currently shared informally. “We share information and knowledge between families and friends. Sometimes we get tips from agribusiness. It’s okay, but we need to know more about how to tackle droughts or improve irrigation techniques, for instance,” explained Milty, a father of nine.

These concerns and requests for better information were repeated later in the afternoon when we met with a group of 15 farmers from the Suryoday Farmer’s Cooperative. The cooperative is four years old and aims to connect farmers with agricultural information and solutions.

Here, the voices were even more unanimous on a specific point: farmers want to increase their productivity, learn how to grow higher-value crops and understand the different types of agricultural input products available to them.

This information needs to be accurate, relevant and tailored to their context. Most farmers don’t use... Read more on the Data Driven Farming Prize website.