Digital Agriculture Month In Review: Connecting the Digital Picture to Real Stories
I’ll admit it - I’m a millennial. My entire adult life has been defined by the mobile phone. I got my first one as a newly minted high school freshman and let me tell you, that pink razr (they’re back, by the way) opened up a whole new world of social potential that my parents, no doubt, immediately regretted enabling. Fast forward 15 years and my favorite hobbies are nursing my dread of actually speaking on the phone to anyone at all and ignoring the slew of texts and DMs that hit my iPhone each day. Go figure.
Millennial jokes aside, since the early 2000s as Karl so aptly highlighted in his opening blog, the ways in which we use mobile phones have grown exponentially and reach far beyond simply person to person communication. Global agricultural development is being revolutionized by the unprecedented growth of the digital economy, transforming everything from farm to table.
Throughout this Digital Month, we’ve had the privilege of engaging with and hearing from so many of you on the exciting work you’re doing. From tracking the game-changing trends in agricultural transformation to ensuring access to vital agriculture information by connecting millions of small-scale farmers and so much more. Thank you for your work.
To close out the month, we wanted to share the stories of some of our colleagues in the field who inspire us, on what digital has meant for their work and their lives. We hope they propel you forward, too, into this new year and new decade, to leverage the digital transformation in agriculture to empower the most vulnerable we seek to serve.
Thank you all for following throughout this December and best wishes for the new year ahead!
Ms. Pearl Ackah, Private Sector Team Leader, USAID/Ghana
Pearl Ackah is the Private Sector Team Leader for USAID/Ghana’s Economic Growth Office. Early in her career she saw the power of ICT in agriculture and worked with a start-up to develop Ghana’s first SMS-based agriculture information sharing platform. Today, with USAID, she is still a powerful part of Ghana’s digital revolution.
“For me, digital is access, innovation and inclusion. That’s what I’ve come to see. No matter where I am,in the world, thanks to the innovation of the cell phone, people have access to me through my phone and I have access to them! Twenty years ago I had a giant cell phone. It was so big it could be used as a weapon. It connected me to people like never before. It changed Ghana forever. Now, the mobile network in Ghana is bringing more innovation than ever before. The opportunities are endless!!. Sometimes when I am bored I look for new apps on Google and find there are new apps everyday for every single thing in your life. People are now out there thinking and developing all the time. Kids now (in Ghana) think anything is possible and believe they can develop an app for anything they can imagine. My generation didn’t think like that. It’s almost like using digital technology in youth unlocks another part of the brain that we weren’t using before. And finally I’ll say digital can bring inclusion. It has ensured that no matter where you are you can be included. Even if you are far from Accra, you don’t have to be an outsider to the information. It also bridges the gender divide, all of us should have access. When I talk to youth in Ghana about agriculture, digital has helped make it interesting; it brings youth into agriculture. We show them that agriculture is not just the hoe and cutlass. They can innovate using digital technology to catalyse growth and transform agriculture. They can be the ones to bring the linkages through the apps and other digital technologies. The sky's the limit.”
Mr. Eric Kabuchanga, GIS Specialist, USAID/Kenya
Eric Kabuchanga is a GIS Specialist with USAID/Kenya. During the workday he uses his skills in geospatial analysis to inform USAID development decisions. Outside of work he’s a change maker who is transforming the way growers in his home area farm.
“Farming is a passion of mine. I grew up on a farm in Bungoma county (Western Kenya) in Kenya’s breadbasket. I now live in Nairobi. I still want to farm back home. At our farm, most of the challenges are around mechanization. I bought a tractor to help with the plowing, but it was so much trouble. Actually, I had given up on the tractor earlier this year. I was even planning to sell it. I needed a way to manage the tractor and the drivers from Nairobi. I started Googling around and got ideas using apps to manage and monitor the tractor. I said let me try this. That was in February of this year (2019). I researched more on Google and YouTube and taught myself to code and develop a tractor monitoring app. The tractor and app became a very good tool for me. I am now able to know where the tractor is, what it is doing at any time. I can also monitor from the interface the variation in use of fuel. If it plows on a soft farm, fuel (use) will be less. If it plows on a hard farm, fuel (use) will be high. Through the data I collected I’ve discovered during the dry period plowing on sandy soil is not advisable because it uses too much fuel. We now avoid those areas until the initial rainfall. During the high season the demand is more than I can supply. I’ve been thinking about trying to scale. Since I have this application there are other tractor owners who I’ve shared it with. I help them understand how to use this tool to manage their tractor. I will keep learning and trying new things. I want to use the tractor for plowing, planting, and weeding and use sensors to collect new data. My hope is to later turn this into a business and add use weather information and climate information together with mechanization and offer it to Kenyan farmers.“
Ms. Farzana Yasmeen, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, USAID/Bangladesh
Farzana Yasmeen is a Senior Advisor for Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) in USAID/Bangladesh’s Economic Growth Office. Farzana has been a strong proponent of digital data collection for years helping both the Economic Growth Office and USAID implementing partners adopt digital solutions that save time and money. She’s fully invested in digital solutions and uses them at work and for charitable endeavors.
“ I am passionate about incorporating the right digital solutions and tools for project monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) since these can not only improve efficiency and data accuracy, but also helps with timely decision-making. Almost all of our activities are utilizing Open Data Kit (ODK) based tools and apps through smartphones or tablets for data collection in the field, reducing the chances of errors and delays in data transmission. These apps work both online and offline, which is a plus for the areas with limited internet connectivity. And when the data gets transmitted in a cloud based storage, the staff have access to real-time data and they can respond promptly to any emerging challenges. Another aspect I emphasize on is data visualization through dashboards that demonstrates trends and patterns over a period of time showing the gaps and the impact, contributing to effective project design and management.
In my free time, I work with a volunteer organization where I teach individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially women and youth, on how to use digital tools and applications to access information and learn new skills. For these women, this is such a gift, as they can often get their work done e.g. mobile banking, accessing pregnancy care information etc. without leaving their home.
With increasing internet connectivity and more and more innovative and inclusive tools being developed, I see expanded use of digital solutions to tackle specific socio-economic challenges in the developing countries."
Mr. Abdoulaye Dia, Agricultural Specialist, USAID/Senegal
Abdoulay Dia is an Agricultural Specialist at USAID/Senegal. He is a digital champion that experiences the impact of digital in every part of his life. He has firsthand experience of digital impacts through his work and also how these tools can provide positive change for his family and community.
“Family was the driver for me to adopt digital technology. My mother, uncles, and cousins live in a remote small village in Senegal. When mobile networks came to Senegal it made it so much easier for me to connect with my family. Before getting money to them was very hard. The village is 9 km from the main road. During the rainy season, it could take 3 hours to get to my family’s house. And now I can send money to my mother without going there, she can get it in her e-wallet. This is a change. This is a big change.
I personally raise money using digital tools to build a classroom each year for a new school in my village. It’s what I call my lifetime project, (I call it this) because it’s a school that I am building and it will take time. Each year I have enough (money) to build a new classroom. Digital tools are helping there - paying teachers through a mobile money account, raising money through Facebook and then sending it to one guy in the village who is responsible for managing things and building a new classroom. It makes real change. I’ve been doing it for three years. Currently we have three grades and 94 kids. I’ll keep doing this for 3 more years so we will have 6 grades and 200 kids.”