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Digital Solutions for Agriculture: Updates Worth Tracking

I just can’t stay away from this topic! I retired last April from my role as Digital Solutions Advisor for Agriculture at USAID, but after six months of hiking and other fun, I have returned to my passion of figuring out ways to leverage digital solutions to enhance the lot of poor farmers in developing countries. So far, I have found a few updates worth passing along.

First, I was pleased to learn that USAID’s Bureau of Food Security has issued guidance for how USAID missions and partners can leverage digital solutions as part of the US Government’s Global Food Security Strategy (GFSS). It looks like it might be useful to many beyond the US Government. It’s not such a surprise though, given the GFSS itself recognizes the importance of digital tools to achieve food security goals

I’m always looking for solid evidence that digital solutions really do have impact (see my prior blog), so I found this set of slides from USAID summarizing evidence of impact across the agricultural value chain useful. It’s a good start that others can add to. The detail behind the evidence in the slides is available in this table, so you can dig deep to see how the impact was measured. Perusing the table, I found this gem about the power of simple SMS messages that you might have missed: smallholder sugar cane farmers in Kenya receiving agriculture advice in such text messages increased their yields by 11.5 percent, and simply allowing farmers to report delays in fertilizer delivery reduced delays by 21.6 percent. It’s good to remember how such basic digital tools can have such an impact. 

If you haven’t studied the four new USAID case studies on digital solutions for agriculture, you might be interested especially in the one about a Senegal project, Nataal Mbay, that demonstrates how quiet applications can be powerful in empowering farmers themselves and improving their links to markets and more. I coined the term "quiet applications" to refer to the use of off-the-shelf software tools (e.g., spreadsheets or cloud based document sharing, such as Google documents) that are combined well and simply rather than more complicated software applications that usually require more resources to maintain and train users.   

I close with two other news items related to digital agriculture. First, Esoko, one of the oldest digital services for farmers in Africa, has become Esoko Networks and spun off its data collection and m-commerce services into two new companies, Tulaa (mobile money and agricultural advice) and Insyt (data collection). It will be interesting to see how this unfolds! Finally, Literacy Bridge has re-branded itself as Amplio to better describe its role delivering digital information to farmers and others beyond the telecom grid using an approach that has proved to have pretty impressive impact. Stay tuned for the full Amplio website soon!

December is ICT4AG month on Agrilinks, so feel free to upload your favorite resources or write a guest blog too! To start out the month, the knowledge management team put together this compilation of some of the many ICT4AG resources posted on Agrilinks and beyond.