Using technology to drive better service delivery and impact for smallholder farmers

Published on

April 3, 2020

New technologies have the potential to positively impact agribusinesses and other organizations working with or delivering services to smallholder farmers. We have previously highlighted some of the exciting work being done by a range of companies to use technologies to interact with farmers, to deliver services and extension support, and to reach out to underserved groups.

AgDevCo's Smallholder Development Unit (SDU) has been working closely with agribusinesses across Africa for the past several years. We now have 23 partnerships with agribusinesses in eight countries, all focused on finding ways to enable smallholder farmers to improve their productivity and their income. As we've supported our partners in experimenting with how best to work with smallholder farmers, we have learned a lot about what does and does not work. In two recent publications we've distilled this learning into practical guidelines for use by managers of agribusinesses and any other organizations looking to find the most effective and efficient ways to engage with smallholder farmers.

Using video for farmer training

The first of these guides focuses on how to use video to provide training to smallholder farmers. Many of AgDevCo's partner agribusinesses are now successfully using farmer-to-farmer videos to improve smallholder farmers’ skills and knowledge and to prompt them to make changes in their farming practices. For example, the video below was made by Esco Uganda, and shows two of their lead farmers demonstrating best practice in planting cocoa seedlings and discussing the importance of shade management. Evidence shows that farmers are more likely to retain information presented in a video than in traditional in-person training, and that seeing a video featuring a farmer like themselves who has had success using new agricultural practices can motivate them to experiment with new practices themselves.


Watch: Esco Uganda Farmer Training Video

Esco Uganda Farmer Training Video: How to Plant Cocoa and Shade Management


Some of the key benefits that videos offer to agribusinesses are:

  • Scalability: Video screenings can reach large numbers of farmers at one time, far exceeding the number that an extension officer could visit in a day.
  • Consistency of messaging: Using video ensures that all farmers receive the same training. With in-person training or demonstrations, it is much harder to be sure that the training messages are being passed down correctly to farmers.
  • Brand promotion: Videos can be used to promote the company among smallholder farmers and to communicate expectations about quality standards for purchasing crops.
  • Inclusion: Videos are appealing to women and men, younger and older people, and do not require literacy in the viewer.

AgDevCo's new guide discusses the business case for using video to complement field extension services, and then goes on to provide practical advice both on producing farmer-friendly training videos and on how to show them to farmers. AgDevCo’s agribusiness partners are trying out a variety of dissemination methods – ranging from showing videos on tablets during one-to-one interactions with farmers, to organizing big public screenings in communities. This year we are working with one of our partners in Mozambique to test which method produces the biggest impact on farmers’ knowledge and adoption of new practices – watch this space for more.

Implementing digital technology solutions within agribusinesses

The second area in which AgDevCo has generated a lot of learning in the course of working with agribusinesses is in designing and deploying digital technology systems. Our new series of step-by-step guidelines is designed to cut through the ambiguity, uncertainty, and frustration that many feel when implementing new technologies in their businesses. This series will be useful to any company or organization that sees the potential to use digital technology to help streamline or improve its operations, but doesn’t know how or where to begin.

Part 1 of the guidelines takes you through how to map out and prioritize the requirements for a technology project and then develop a strategy for finding services or service providers that can meet those needs. Part 2 covers how best to work with technology providers, and part 3 (available shortly) will cover piloting technology projects and iterating as plans develop.

We hope that agribusinesses and other smallholder-focused organizations will benefit from our learning so far in these areas. As we continue working with our partners – and as the technology landscape develops – we’ll continue to create opportunities for sharing experience and capturing emerging insights. In particular, this year we are planning online knowledge-sharing events to enable agribusinesses in sub-Saharan Africa to share their experience and learn from each other. Announcements will be made through the Lab’s channels, including this website and Twitter – or you can get in touch with us at [email protected] and we’ll add you to our mailing list for upcoming events.

About the Author(s)

Learning Lab Partner

AgDevCo is a specialist agriculture impact investor that has established a Smallholder Development Unit (SDU) with support from the MasterCard Foundation (MCF). The SDU will work with rural agricultural enterprises to develop equitable outgrower schemes in eight African countries. Activities will include providing training and better quality inputs for farmers, implement mobile technology solutions, and brokering long term purchase contracts. The SDU aims to develop 25 “outgrower schemes” over 5 years that will improve the livelihoods of up to half a million farmers.

Press release: AgDevCo and The MasterCard Foundation partnership

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