The proliferation of digital technologies will play a major role in agriculture. Digital transformation can unlock the potential for smallholder farmers across South Asia and Africa to increase their incomes. It is an opportunity for farmers to be visible, to be empowered and to engage directly with their customers.
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When it comes to subsistence agriculture, digital transformation is no longer a choice – it’s a need. You can either go digital or disappear. Farmers’ and buyers’ needs are evolving at an increasing rate. Companies who are in the business of supplying or procuring from farmers need to transform themselves to satisfy their customers’ fast-changing demands. Digital solutions in recent years have not only increased the reach of farmers through more effective traceability, compliance and farm management systems but they also reduce the conventional knowledge and technology gap between small and large scale agriculture. Finding ways to cater for the ever-increasing demand for food from limited land requires solutions that will help improve the productivity of the farm.
Many farmers and agribusinesses have already embarked on their journey of digital transformation and the market for digital solutions is expected to progress at a substantial rate due to the ever-growing affinity for more convenient cloud storage which has been incorporated in farm management software. This calls for a major change, not just in farm management, but also business models, processes and, above all, mindset. Reaching out to millions of farmers appears to be an obvious imperative with clear-cut benefits. But the whole mechanism of increasing outreach has to be rethought. Smallholder farmers across South Asia and Africa are generally trapped in a vicious cycle of low productivity, expensive credit and lack of market connectivity; because of this, subsistence farming tends to be the norm. Therefore, to increase the income of smallholder farmers, an integrated approach of increasing productivity, links to markets and access to inputs has to be adopted.
For several years now, SFSA has been investing in a range of digital solutions that benefit smallholders. This began in 2011 with the development of Farmforce, a forerunner of cloud-based platforms enabling compliance, traceability and improved farm management practices at the smallholder level. The platform was spun out in 2017 and is currently being used in more than 20 countries. Digital tools which target other needs are also in the process of being developed and tested by SFSA. In Bangladesh, the e-hub platform provides digital support to Farmers’ Hubs - a concentration of commercial units providing agricultural input/output and connecting farmers through knowledge, technology, and purchasing opportunities. This practical, mobile technology facilitates the smooth running of FHs, thus contributing to sound, data-driven business and investment decisions. Kuza is a Kenyan-based digital micro-learning and community platform which empowers people working in the informal sector with entrepreneurial and personal development opportunities. This structured, micro-module learning can be accessed by users in their own time and at their own pace and offers modules dealing with practical, sector-specific skills, interpersonal skills and business management training. This platform provides digital support to the Agri-Entrepreneurs Platform in India.