Digitalisation in Agriculture

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With the agriculture sector being pivotal for sustaining the livelihoods of people living in rural areas, and the provision of food & income, information and communication technologies (ICTs) present a tremendous opportunity to harness the sector’s full potential and ‘leave no one behind’. ICTs offer solutions for rural populations that help to improve productivity, to enhance food and nutrition security, to access markets, and to earn and even significantly increase their income. ICTs have cross-cutting transformative potential that can accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the context of rural development, specifically SDG 4 – Quality Education, SDG5 – Gender Equality and SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals.[1]

ICTs can benefit the agricultural sector by offering farmers services that improve their access to inputs, financial services and markets, by gathering and disseminating information, and by facilitating social learning and exchange. In Africa, the majority of these services still rely on SMS and voice-based systems, but the increasing smartphone penetration holds promise of a new world of services for the continent’s young rural population keen on technology. Yet, it is important to tailor high-tech ICT solutions to smallholders’ needs and their existing skills and capabilities to use advanced technologies. Additionally, much depends on finding the sustainable ICT4Ag business models needed to promote the uptake of internet-supported solutions also in the poorest parts of the world.[1]

Over the past five years, ICT4Ag has become the most widely adopted acronym for the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the agricultural sector. ICT4Ag encompasses all ICT’s that are/can be used in the field of agriculture, and which range from older technologies like (analog) video, radio and television to computing, internet, remote sensing, mobile and digital broadcasting. ICT adoption in the agricultural sector has, however, started relatively late. This may be attributed to the perception of agriculture as a difficult environment, and its low salience in the donor agenda until relatively recently. The increasing attention was stimulated by advances in technology that made the cost of ICT services lower, information and data easier to access, store and exchange. The development of innovative business models and partnerships played their role as well.[2]

The GSMA report estimates that, at the end of 2019, there were 477 million unique mobile subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa. This number accounts for 45% of the population and continues to rise, as well as smartphone adoption. GSMA expects this number to double by 2025. The number of mobile users will grow from 272 million in 2019 to 475 million in 2025. As for mobile data consumption in sub-Saharan Africa, it is expected to grow more than fourfold by 2025.[3] Hence, ICT4Ag’s importance for the agricultural sector will only expand.

Rice Mill Worker in Kebbi, Nigeria

Blockchain for Agriculture

Blockchain is an emerging digital technology that has a potential to address the gaps of the traceability of products as well as accountability and transparency of agricultural value chains. In agriculture and food supply chains, where numerous actors are involved from the raw production to the supermarket shelf, there is a need to provide a distributed, peer-to-peer, yet secure, way to perform transactions among different parties. Blockchain technology allows to secure transactions by opening them to all stakeholders in the chain, thus keeping a consistent view and agreement among the participants.[4] Removing the role of intermediaries and increasing transparency helps to reduce corruption. Below are several examples of applications of blockchain in agriculture:

Food Traceability

Food Traceability facilitates the identification of product provenance and can increase consumers’ trust and loyalty. Companies such as Walmart and Kroger, Nestle, Unilever, Cargill and Carrefour embraced the technology and included it into their supply chains.[5]

Land Governance

Blockchain can support Land Governance. Proving ownership of land and property in the Global South sometimes presents a challenge. The Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) are a secure, fast, and immutable method to register land titles, providing greater legal clarity to land tenure systems, avoiding corruption and fraud, and unlock capital. Physical assets registered on the DLT, such as land titles, can be used as a collateral.[5]

Financial Services

Blockchain technology affects the way banks, credit card companies and investment funds operate. It makes banking transactions and provision of financial and insurance services faster, cheaper, more secure and inclusive. The banking industry has started testing the blockchain technology with cryptocurrencies and other assets that can be exchanged on blockchain directly without involvement of a third party that would normally charge for services. A number of banks such as ING, Société Générale, Barclays, Standard Chartered and BNP Paribas, large corporations like Unilever, Sainsbury’s and Sappi as well as fintech start-ups started using DLTs to track physical supply chains and unlock access to financing for sustainable sourcing.[5]

ICT solutions are especially promising to bridge the gap of access to financial services in the countries of the Global South and provide financial services to people living in remote areas, lacking services commonly available in cities. The rise of smartphone penetration and improvements in connectivity indicate that the possibility that farmers could harness blockchain’s technology full potential seems realistic.[3] Yet, even if blockchain offers advanced security, regulatory and legal frameworks are crucial to guide the use of blockchain technology in food supply chains and possible security risks.[5]

ICT-Supported Financial Services

Low-income consumers lack access to finance as a result of a perceived lack of creditworthiness by large-scale institutions or the high transaction costs, moreover, small-scale loans being unprofitable for large institutions.[6] It is therefore not surprising that most farmers don’t have bank accounts.

In contractual farming, there are usually long distances between the farmers and the lead firm. Making payments in cash can be risky and resource consuming, taking into consideration the remote location of the farms. This leads to delays in payments and seriously limits the farmers’ potential to increase or even sustain their production and income. The use of mobile payment services is increasingly offering a solution to this issue. Mobile payment services are easier to access than conventional banking services and allow timely money transfers. However, the availability of a local agent where a farmer can withdraw cash is a prerequisite. At the same time, while timely processing of payments is of high benefit for farmers, they are used to cash money and might mistrust the new modalities, and thus show low acceptance. Opening a mobile payment account cannot be forced on the farmers. The incentives and awareness-raising measures are instrumental to convince farmers to change their financial behavior.[7] 

Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) Business Models Driving Innovation

Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) business models make products and services accessible to low-income consumers, thus, driving financial inclusion. While PAYG is known mostly from its successful application in solar home system business models, it can be applied to any productive capital inputs such as tractors, water pumps, and irrigation systems.[6] PAYG utility solutions enable innovative models for energy, water and sanitation services that are affordable, clean, safe and reliable. PAYG models allow people to make incremental payments, often through mobile money, for example, for a solar household system that can power phone and radio charging, as well as other appliances such as TVs and fans, thus, representing an opportunity to make progress with UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy. These innovative PAYG utility solutions demonstrate how enabling users, especially those in low-income segments, to make regular, affordable mobile money payments for crucial energy, water and sanitation services drives both financial inclusion and social impact.[3]

The lack of cost recovery for grid extension and mini-grid projects, high up-front cost of energy access and the lack of private investment as well as well-targeted subsidies for renewable projects form a barrier to expanding energy access.[8] UNCDF CleanStart report highlights the increasing role of digital payments and inclusive digital ecosystems in achieving sustainable energy for all. Also, blockchain technology is used to enhance and finance energy access.

Internet of Things Solutions

Internet of Things (IoT) solutions will be central to efforts to improve productivity and efficiency in operational processes. IoT-enabled solutions have the potential to help address regionwide challenges in key sectors, such as energy, water, agriculture, transportation & logistics, manufacturing and healthcare.[3]

The ‘internet of things’ is making it possible to connect diverse and multiple devices through the mobile network. The data generated can be analysed using cloud-based technologies to inform strategic policy and project design decision-making processes or deliver information. This has the potential to significantly reduce transaction costs and to improve smallholders’ access to markets.[1]

GIS and Remote Sensing

Technology such as sensors and geographical information systems (GIS) can increase productivity and efficiency of agricultural practices. Sensors and geographical information systems (GIS) can be used in a broad range of application fields: (1) for GPS-mapping of parcels and visualization on Google Maps and connection with farmer registry; (2) for continuous monitoring (climate, water consumption, soil moisture); (3) for the identification of additional agricultural lands using satellite and airborne imagery; (4) GIS can enable the correlation of natural parameters, agricultural practices, and the resulting yields; (5) drones can be used for the creation of digital elevation models in case of drainage issues, for the design of irrigation schemes, for harvest control, etc.[7]

Around 70 percent of global freshwater withdrawals go into agriculture. Sustainable water management is pivotal in order to increase water use efficiency and ensure food and nutrition security. Sensors can improve water resource management and mitigate the risk of unsustainable water extraction rate by measuring the soil moisture and controlling the sprinklers for the best conditions for the plants.

Sensors can be used in a solar-powered irrigation monitoring system to measure solar irradiance (e.g. on horizontal and inclined surface), dynamic water level, rainfall, and wind speed.[9] In addition, the SPIS monitoring system can be expanded with sensors in the reservoir and in the irrigation system itself. More sophisticated (and expensive) monitoring devices may include automatic data logging. The data logger continuously records and stores all system parameters over a longer period of time. Special evaluation software allows for quick data analysis on site. In remote areas not connected to the public grid, data loggers are usually solar-powered and may even include modern communication devices (GSM) with the option of checking system performance via smart phones.

Using GPS for geo-mapping the farmers’ plots can be very useful for a better understanding of the local conditions, e.g. this data can help to identify the best crop varieties for the specific parcels in order to optimize irrigation schemes and plans, to mitigate pest incidences, to optimise transportation routes. Drones with infrared sensors can be very effective for early warnings and for harvest control. Satellite images are a good source for the identification and development of new agricultural lands. However, precision farming requires the high investments in software and powerful hardware and the high level of expertise which makes it justifiable for large contract farming schemes only. Furthermore, the mapping needs frequent updates. At the same time, GPS mapping of the farmers’ plots and visualisation via Google maps is a low-cost solution with high technical impact. However, the full potentials of precision farming cannot be exploited without appropriate expertise to integrate the different sensors and sensor networks into one functioning system.[7]

The use of GIS and remote sensing technology can empower farmers, resulting in even higher yields, better incomes and lower risks if farmers as well benefit from advice on the identification of best practices to obtain the highest yield.[7]

Farmer Registry

The farmer registry is a database or an umbrella application for contract farming most ICT services rely on. The farmer registry accumulates information important for planning and management, such as farmers’ phone numbers, bank account details, water consumption, the size and location of their parcels. Such a database makes it easy to keep this information up to date to support traceability, more accurate statistics, prognoses and planning. Technically, the solution has to be integrated into a (possibly) existing IT environment which can be simply an Excel sheet or database of a varying degree of sophistication or even its free alternatives.[7]

Service-Based Information Technology and Data Collection by SMS

The Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) technology is commonly used by prepaid cellular phones to query the available balance. This technology allows to provide on demand more specific information. The farmer can dial a number and is then led through a menu to access the necessary information which can vary from weather forecast, early warnings (flood, storm, thunderstorm, heavy rain, etc.) to market prices. USSD technology, SMS, voice mail, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology support the information-driven service provision business model. The services provided by such solutions can help lead organization to maintain communication with the farmers in remote areas and keep them informed in contract farming but also to collect information for monitoring and analysis by extension workers, international cooperation and nonprofit organizations. Smartphones can further facilitate data collection and the capturing of visual data.[7]

Barcoding and Traceability

Barcoding in the agricultural value chain is another way to improve traceability in order to be compliant with national or international standards and certifications. Introduction of barcoding helps to effectively collect, manage and analyse large amounts of information. Barcoding is, however, only feasible with an IT department and a professional procurement department, as it needs databases, servers, and reliable backup procedures. Therefore, the technology is not suitable for the informal model.[7]

Smallholder AgriTech Business Models

There has been a surge in AgriTech start-ups in recent years. They tap into the potential that technology offers and introduce innovative business models that accommodate the previously overlooked base of the pyramid (BOP) market segment.

The base of the pyramid (BOP) is a socio-economic group that consists of four billion people who live in relative poverty with annual incomes below $3,000 in local purchasing power. The food sector is valued at $2,900 billion for the BOP market, significantly larger than any other industry, such as water ($20 billion), information and communication technology or ICT ($51 billion), health ($158 billion), transportation ($179 billion), housing ($332 billion), and energy ($433 billion). Despite an overall large value of over $5 trillion, the BOP market is highly fragmented and unique, comprised of different cultures, languages, needs that are different from one location to the next.[6]

The Grow Asia publication identified five business models which appeared to show the greatest potential in reaching smallholder farmers at scale:

  1. Digital Advisory services that provide customized advice and information to farmers over a social media platform and/or a mobile application.
  2. Peer-to-Peer Lending platforms help de-risk the investments in the agricultural sector by allowing lenders to make individual loans to farmers over a digital platform.
  3. Traceability solutions use a database or ledger to record the origin of commodities from farms.
  4. Digital Marketplaces make transactions more efficient, open up new markets to farmers by connecting buyers and sellers online.
  5. Mechanization Platforms allow owners of tractors, drones and other equipment to schedule-lend equipment to farmers on a digital platform.[10]

On the same note, the AGRA final report identified five key traits of sustainable business models:

  1. Revenue models that involve agribusinesses or institutions covering the cost of smallholder farmers’ access to the service.
  2. The use of low-cost digital delivery channels combined with more expensive face-to-face promotion and marketing.
  3. Solutions that combine valued and focused services, offered in partnership with trusted organisations.
  4. Key performance indicators and customer feedback loops to monitor the business.
  5. Business models that have diversified sources of revenue.[11]

Finally, the WE4F Innovator Guidebook points out such solutions as pay-as-you-go, rent-to-own, leasing, cross-subsidisation, selling to an aggregated unit, and many others to overcome the challenges of limited ability to pay by farmers and to reduce distribution and optimise maintenance costs.[6]

Case Studies

Early Warning System that Integrates Indigenous and Scientific Drought Forecasting

Droughts remain the number one disaster in Africa. There is currently no appropriate drought-forecasting tool for small-scale farmers. Access to the media is also limited in many cases. Moreover, farmers find the scientific terminologies used hard to translate to their contexts and are not aware about available meteorological services. Therefore, they continue to rely on indigenous knowledge. To target farmers directly, the Central University of Technology of Free State (South Africa) has developed a drought early warning system that combines indigenous and scientific drought forecasting. The tool is possible to use through a mobile application, a web portal, and SMS service to pool weather information through a network of sensors that monitor weather conditions for small-scale farmers in Mozambique, South Africa, and Kenya. The system gives farmers a comprehensive information that differs from conventional predictions and resonates with them.

Pay-As-You-Go Services Improve Access to Solar Ppumps

Solar technology for irrigation can triple profits for growers within one to two crop seasons, compared with using other forms of irrigation systems and rainfall. At the same time, smallholder farmers in Africa often don’t have access to the knowledge, capital or technologies that help them improve their yields. As a result, farmers frequently rely on inexpensive diesel water pumps instead, which are readily available to farmers who have limited resources to begin with, but costly in the long run. To bridge this gap, SunCulture created the AgroSolar Irrigation Kit, which combines solar powered water pumping and drip irrigation. To prevent the cost from being a barrier to farmers in obtaining their solar kits, SunCulture adopted a Pay-As-You-Grow payment method, which allows farmers to pay in installments as their businesses progress.

Digitising Agribusiness Payments in Africa - Building Financial Inclusion of Farmers

Most agribusiness payments are made in cash. Thus, paying farmers in a timely and cost-effective manner for their produce is a challenge that both agribusinesses and farmers are constantly trying to navigate. World Bank conducted a survey of 29 national, regional and global agribusinesses active across 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to assess the current status of digitization of agribusiness payments as a pathway to broader financial inclusion of farmers. The findings of the analysis revealed the following:

  • Widespread access to mobile money accounts is a key driver of digitization of agricultural payments.
  • Most surveyed agribusiness make some payments digitally and a handful have achieved full or almost complete digitization.
  • Some agribusinesses are using innovative approaches to digitize farmer payments and building on digital payments to provide other financial services and non-financial services.
  • There is a huge untapped potential to digitize agribusiness payments to farmers.
  • There are, however, several challenges that need to be addressed to accelerate digitization of agribusiness payments to farmers. In many countries, these include foundational challenges, such as limited connectivity, poor digital literacy, and a weak regulatory environment for digital payments, and proximate challenges, such as limited availability of cash-in, cash-out points and opportunities to use e-money.
  • Digitization of agribusiness payments to farmers offers broader benefits beyond financial inclusion of farmers.
  • And finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the urgency of digitizing payments to avoid disruptions to the supply chain and maintain economic activity.

Financial inclusion is critical to help farmers increase productivity through targeted investments and build resilience to shocks.

Flying Sensors Help to Reduce Water Consumption

In Mozambique, some of the most common crops—maize, cassava, and sorghum—have very low yields per hectare. Most farmers do not have access to reliable information on the status of their crops and are afraid to risk using costly inputs such as high-quality seeds, on-time irrigation, and fertilizer for fear of wasting these precious resources. FutureWater Flying Sensors aim to bridge this gap. Sensors provide smallholder farmers with insights that are critical to improving their application of limited resources such as water, seed, and fertilizer. The information provided includes high-resolution spatial information beyond the visual spectrum. This means, for example, that the sensors detect crop stress before it is observable by the human eye.

Improving Energy Access through Digital Payments

Modern energy plays an essential role in the development agenda as it powers growing economies, facilitates connectivity, and improves the quality of peoples’ lives. Access to energy facilitates the achievement of many SDGs, such as ending poverty and hunger, achieving universal access to education, health care, energy, and water.

The agricultural and food sectors contribute significantly to global energy consumption, and, as a result, to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, especially due to the use of fossil fuels in the absence of grid electricity supply. Innovations in agriculture and agri-food sectors increase productivity, farmers’ income and efficiency of food production systems but require access to energy. While numerous solutions exist to meet the needs of the people who still lack access to clean, affordable, and reliable energy options, one of the key challenges is in how to expand efforts to rural areas. Off-grid renewable energy supply is one of the most cost-effective solutions to the issue of access in remote rural areas but in the lack of cost recovery for mini-grid projects, high up-front cost of energy access and the lack of private investment as well as well-targeted subsidies for renewable projects and the absence of inclusive and flexible payment systems, the ability of rural customers to pay and the expansion of renewable energy access remain limited.

Incorporating digital payments and developing inclusive digital payments ecosystems help to bring light to some of the darkest corners of the world and have the capacity to drive financial inclusion, create new economic opportunities particularly for women, increase transparency across the private, public, and development sectors, and support economic growth by driving major cost savings, efficiencies, and higher productivity.

Actors and Innovators

Functioning business models allow new technologies to reach scale and thrive, but also to make a difference in people’s lives. Below are some examples of successful AgriTech solutions that were delivered within a well-functioning business models tailored to the needs, financial capacity and digital skills of smallholder farming communities.

Access to Information and Capacity Development

Ignitia delivers daily, monthly and seasonal weather forecasts via SMS in partnership with mobile network operators to help smallholder farmers in West Africa to avoid adverse impacts of the changing climate and increase profit. Ignitia’s forecasting model predicts tropical weather patterns down to a hyperlocal range. The service is paid for by linking into the customer’s existing phone credits.[6]

Shamba Shape Up harnesses opportunities offered by television to disseminate timely, tested and effective agricultural information to farmers through an entertaining approach. It is a pioneering farming television in Kenya. The show’s “make-over” style reality show addresses the informational needs of farmers and entertains them at the same time. The show comprises an interactive SMS service, call centre and mobile information service that provides farmers with instant help to improve their farms and get better yields, and an online budgeting tool to help farmers build personalised budgets on a range of commodities.

Drought accounts for over 88% of weather-related disasters in Africa. There is currently no appropriate drought-forecasting tool for smallholder farmers. They continue to rely on their indigenous knowledge to reach critical cropping decisions. ITIKI bridges this gap by providing SMS weather forecasting to farmers in Kenya, Mozambique, and South Africa. ITIKI Drought Prediction Tool combines Indigenous Knowledge with information and high-tech meteorological technology. The company hired people from within the community to build trust and encourage uptake of the solution.[6]

Access to Finance and Services

More than 163 million people in India still remain without access to sustainable water supply, according to the WaterAid report. Claro Energy is an example of a PAYG model offering affordable, on-demand irrigation services from a portable solar pump at no upfront capital cost. Claro Energy operates in high power deficit, diesel dependent, agrarian and poor economic regions of India. The company’s solutions rely on solar energy for developing mass irrigation solutions and generate power at point of use.[6]

In Kenya, M-Pesa, Africa’s most successful mobile money service, accounts for over a third of Safaricom’s service revenues. In 2019, the number of registered mobile money accounts in Sub-Saharan Africa reached 469 million; this is expected to reach half a billion in 2020.[3] Moreover, M-Pesa helped 185,000 individuals transition from subsistence farming and part-time incomes into business or retail sales.[6]

GIS and Remote Sensing

Smallholders are particularly in need of relevant information to take informed decisions about where and when they supply their limited resources such as water, seeds, fertilizer and labor. Third Eye supports farmers in Mozambique and Kenya by setting up a network of flying sensors operators. The company faced a challenge to make sales of their drone-captured spatial water stress information to individual farmers, which led to a decision to sell to farmers’ associations with common irrigation chains instead. The service thus allows for water savings across the water table, and the information is more efficiently captured across multiple farms at once.[12]

Smallholder farmers in Central Highland areas of Vietnam face severe water shortages. There crops are particularly affected by the drought and irrigation deficiency, while the excessive usage of water in farming practice affects plant health and drains the limited groundwater. MimosaTEK provides an internet of things platform for precision irrigation for many crops in Vietnam which monitors and analyzes data on farms to measure soil moisture, rain, wind, light, and recommends to farmers a precise irrigation schedule in real-time. Since not all are able to afford the solution, MimosaTEK also offers the ability to lease the system.

Value Chain and Farm Management

Solar pumps have become an economical, technically and environmentally viable alternative to conventional pumping systems. However, compared to conventional energy systems, the use of solar energy has some specific characteristics, which must be considered when planning a Solar Powered Irrigation System. Since 2015, GIZ and FAO have worked together on developing a free and web-based Toolbox on SPIS. The Toolbox enables advisors, service providers and practitioners in the field of solar irrigation to provide broad hands-on guidance to end-users, policymakers and financiers. Later, the Solar Powered Irrigation (SPIS) App was designed based on the Toolbox.

The Toolbox comprises informative modules supplemented with user-friendly software tools (calculations sheets, checklists, guidelines) which support users in budgeting, sizing and designing a solar-powered irrigation system. The app has all the Toolbox functions and allows the user to save the data, to view and to edit all previous calculations. This may prove particularly useful in the field without internet connection.

Smallholder farmers need water monitoring technology that is similar to what is required for larger farms, but its cost (at $300,000) can be simply astronomical to small landholders. To tackle this issue, ICU - Peru approached smallholder farmers through agriculture cooperatives. Moreover, they designed a lower-cost alternative that sells for just $3,000 in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It has limited features, but still addresses the core needs of the farmers (WE4F, 2019). ICU’s innovation combines advanced weather technology in the field and information support via website which provides farmers with the information when to irrigate and how much water to use.

BanQu is an innovative blockchain-as-a-service software company focused on empowering the unbanked and underbanked BOP customers by building their digital economic identity while connecting them to the global supply chains. The company also helps businesses, organizations, and governments to capture interactions with the world’s poorest through a secure, immutable, and distributed ledger of financial and personal records using blockchain technology. This Economic Identity thus provides an opportunity for the unbanked to participate in the global economy.

AgUnity, Kiu Global, and Amar Desh Amar Gram are other examples of digital transaction firms that cut out the middleman in agriculture value chains in developing countries and improve access to finance through digitalisation.[6]

Emerging Opportunities for the Application of Blockchain in the Agri-food Industry

Distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) and smart contracts provide a unique opportunity to bring greater efficiency, transparency and traceability to agricultural supply chains and to improve rural development interventions in a number of ways. FAO’s study “Emerging Opportunities for the Application of Blockchain in the Agri-food Industry” summarizes the opportunities, benefits and applications of Distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) in agri-foods and identifies technical limits and possible institutional barriers to their adoption.

The study identifies three areas in the use of DLTs that can directly impact stakeholders across agricultural supply chains. The ability of the technology to trace a product’s provenance, carry detailed attributes for the product in each transaction and ensure its authenticity leads to positive impact on food safety, quality and sustainability. At the same time, the disintermediation of transactions in agricultural supply chains and the use of smart contracts reduce transaction costs, decrease risk for buyers and sellers and increase cash flow and working capital for farmers and sellers with a greater financial inclusion and stronger business development, as a result. DLTs allow users to build digital identities with their recorded digital and physical assets, generating data from transactions that can be used to inform production and marketing decisions, prove a farmer’s track record to access credit and strengthen the enabling environment with better informed policies.

On the global scale, the research emphasizes the DLTs potential to improve the implementation and monitoring of international agreements related to agriculture. But the international community has an important role to play in contributing to the creation of an enabling environment that ensures that the productivity gains generated from DLTs can be shared by all market participants, as the study points out.

Publications & Tools

Agricultural Supply Chain Traceability

Agricultural supply chains involve a variety of geographically dispersed participants, i.e., farmers, processors, marketers, handlers, consumers, governments, and the general public.  This makes their transparency harder to achieve. GIZ Blockchain Lab’s concept note concentrates on traceability in the agricultural supply chain. The study considers challenges and the enabling context to implement potential solutions and gives an overview of the available Blockchain initiatives that address common issues in various agricultural value chains. The study also introduces potential solutions that could reduce transaction costs, increase transparency and improve financial inclusion for all stakeholders in the agricultural supply chain, but lead to a more sustainable production processes as well.

ICT for Agriculture and Rural Development - Lessons-learnt from German Cooperation Projects

The study “Harnessing the chances of digitalisation for rural development: Lessons-learnt in German-funded rural development projects” carried out by GIZ and SNRD Africa explores the potential of rural digitalisaiton, drawing examples from 29 GIZ projects operating in 34 countries in Africa and Asia and building recommendations to unleash the potential of ICT4Ag. The study captures and shares lessons on applying digital solutions in, among others, data collection and monitoring, capacity development and awareness building, extension services, trading, value chain and farm management. Its practical guidelines touch upon important aspects such as equal access to ICT for women and young people and guide project managers in planning and implementation of sustainable ICT4Ag business models.

Another GIZ and SNRD Africa study “Use of ICT for Agriculture in GIZ projects – Status quo, opportunities and challenges” has a similar focus on GIZ-supported ICT4Ag initiatives in agriculture and rural development. Before learning from the projects harnessing ICT potential for agriculture and rural development in South and South East Asia and across the African continent, the study delves deeper into exploring the roots of the ICT for Development (ICT4D) and ICT for Agriculture (ICT4Ag) concepts.

Both studies provide a rich summary of experience from the GIZ projects using ICT4Ag and include inspiring examples and ideas from within GIZ, lines out entry points and recommendations to fellow SNRD projects all with the aim to better integrate ICT4Ag solutions. Finally, the guidelines also offer a broad list of existing global ICT4Ag-solutions for various project objectives and purposes.

ICT for Small-Scale Irrigation - A Market Study

Digital applications improving efficiency and monitoring agricultural water use play an increasing role in the debate on small-scale irrigation in international cooperation. Firstly, by supporting technical processes for minimizing water use and reducing fertilizer use, as well as saving energy in irrigation technology. Secondly, apps can often facilitate management processes and monitoring of irrigation and operating systems. However, up until now, digital applications specifically targeting small-scale irrigation have only been used sporadically and as pilots in many projects. As part of a market analysis, this report investigates the potential of digital applications for small-scale irrigation with the aim to identify and structure existing experiences and, based on current developments and challenges, to define further requirements for digital applications in this field.

ICT Toolbox for Contract Farming Professionals

This Toolbox is a hands-on overview of 10 effective ICT related tools and several integrated solutions and their possible fields of application to enhance the competitiveness of contract farming. It has been developed for readers among donors, policy makers and the agribusiness who have already understood the importance of ICT for agriculture in general and for contract farming in particular. It shows their long-term financial benefits and gives advice for the selection and prioritization of suitable tools depending on the specific criteria of a given contract scheme, such as its size, business type, geographical setting and the type of production. The toolbox lists the prerequisites, the possible benefits and related risks for the realization. It gives a basic overview of the implementation steps and times, and a rough estimate for the related costs. The document is the result of a comprehensive desk study, a field visit in Mozambique and experience collected in other countries.

ICT in Agriculture - Connecting Smallholders to Knowledge, Networks, and Institutions

This resource is the revised version of the popular ICT in Agriculture e-Sourcebook, first launched in 2011 and designed to support practitioners, decision makers, and development partners who work at the intersection of ICT and agriculture. This updated Sourcebook is meant to be a practical guide to understanding current trends, implementing appropriate interventions, and evaluating the impact of ICT interventions in agricultural programs. It combines cutting-edge expertise in ICT with empirical knowledge of a wide range of agricultural sectors, from governance to supply chain management. As an online knowledge source, it will continue to evolve and be updated to reflect the emerging and changing challenges and opportunities facing the sector. The publication represents a partnership of infoDev and the Agriculture and Rural Development Department of the World Bank Group, with significant contributions from outside experts.

ICT Update - Unlocking the Potential of Blockchain for Agriculture

88th and the last edition of ICT Update bulletin focusses on the topic of digitalization for agriculture. The issue examines the status and the prospects of blockchain technology in agriculture, the need for blockchain applications, explores opportunities and challenges of blockchain for agriculture and its potential to transform subsistence farmers into market-connected entrepreneurs, while talking about such factors as trust and awareness building. This edition additionally features interviews with practitioners and case studies.

Digitization of Agribusiness Payments in Africa: Building a Ramp for Farmers’ Financial Inclusion and Participation in a Digital Economy

The World Bank report “Digitization of Agribusiness Payments in Africa: Building a Ramp for Farmers’ Financial Inclusion and Participation in a Digital Economy” aims to present the rationale for digitization of agribusiness payments in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), assess the current status of digitization using demand and supply-side data, and identify key actions that can help accelerate digitization. The report draws on an analysis of financial-inclusion data from the Global Findex database, a triennial global financial inclusion survey data undertaken by the World Bank, and the Africa Agribusiness Payments Survey, a survey of 29 national, regional and global agribusinesses active across 17 countries in SSA.

The Blueprint Series: Can Agribusinesses Successfully Pivot to Digital Agricultural Platforms?

AgriFin, GIZ, and Dalberg have launched a series of materials capturing insights and lessons learnt associated with digital platforms for agriculture. The Digital Agriculture Platform Blueprint series currently includes the Digital Agriculture Platform Blueprint White Paper, Deep-Dive Report, and Executive Summary.

Plugging into an existing ‘platform’ can help agri-tech organizations to reach a large, established base of farmers or customers. Different emerging models of Digital Agriculture Platforms (DAPs) are explored in detail in a recent White Paper. The series highlights some of the lessons learnt from working with a government-led platform, the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO). It points out that, despite some challenges to be addressed, government DAPs could be a driver not only for the expansion of technology innovators across value chains but can also interact with other digital platform providers, including mobile network operators, banks, and agribusinesses to provide a unique and transformative value proposition if governments are ready to embrace digital opportunities for change and collaboration.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 GIZ, SNRD Africa. (2018). Harnessing the chances of digitalisation for rural development: Lessons-learnt in German-funded rural development projects.
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