Digital Frontiers: Digital for Resilience and Food Security

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Factsheets and Tools

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 Solutions in Agriculture Market Systems in Response to COVID-19: Results of a Rapid Analysis

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. 

Digital Technology and Resilience

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 Technology and Agriculture Led Growth

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.

Digital Technology and WASH

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 Technology and Nutrition in the Food System

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).

Digital Expertise within USAID

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

Digital Tools as Connectors

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. 

Agriculture in the Digital Age

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

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.  

Digital for Resilience and Food Security Planning Tool

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 cycle. 

Farmer-Centric Data Governance: Towards A New Paradigm

This report was developed by Development Gateway with the support of USAID, DAI, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Agricultural technologies (agtech) can benefit farmers, businesses, consumers, and the environment in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). However, companies that control the flow of data to and from farmers are more integrated than ever. In an era where a small number of agtech providers increasingly hold unprecedented control over farmer data, digital agriculture is on a trajectory to evolve in ways that may inhibit farmer opportunity—unless digital agriculture stakeholders take deliberate steps to change the trajectory of data governance in the agtech sector.

Inclusively Advancing Agri-Food Systems Through AI and Automation

In late 2022, ChatGPT made it clear that AI is transforming our world. But what does this revolution mean for agri-food systems in low and middle income countries? The Centre of Digital Excellence at Genesis partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and US Agency for International Development to investigate. This report unpacks why and how AI and automation is used by small-scale agricultural producers, what the risks and opportunities are, and makes recommendations for steering AI innovation toward more inclusive outcomes.

Inclusive Digital Design Toolkit

The toolkit provides guidance to USAID staff and implementing partners on how to design inclusive digital technology interventions in Feed the Future activities. The toolkit pays specific attention to achieving positive outcomes through digital technology interventions, considerations of marginalized groups and intersectionality, and engagement with relevant local actors in accordance with USAID’s locally-led development objective.

State of the Digital Agriculture Sector Report

USAID’s Bureau for Resilience, Environment, and Food Security partnered with Beanstalk, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), and DAI to produce the most extensive consultation on the state of D4Ag across LMICs to date. The report is an unprecedented attempt to consolidate a globally comparative perspective on the state of D4Ag ecosystems, including perspectives on level and dynamics of D4Ag adoption, proof of impact, and quantitatively- and qualitatively expressed alternative futures for the sector at large. Altogether, it lays out the case and roadmap for collaborative and complementary investment from stakeholders across the D4Ag ecosystem – innovators, policymakers, donors, investors, agribusinesses, and producers alike – to power the next wave of digitally-enabled sustainable development in agriculture across LMICs.

Breaking Silos in Digital Development

This note aims to help USAID mission staff, advisors and implementing partners deliver digital solutions that holistically meet a variety of program participant needs, by breaking persistent silos in digital solutions design, deployment and delivery.