Harnessing the Power of Data

By - Dickson Mutuma Posted On : 07th May, 2019 Your Category Name

In sub-Saharan Africa, the yield gap – the difference between a crop’s potential and the real yield – is often high, with many farmers harvesting 25% of the amount of maize, millet or other staple crop they could be getting, using the right information, technologies and inputs. This helps to explain why only 20% of the food produced in many African countries is sold, as smallholder farmers need to keep the rest just to feed themselves. Hence low incomes and widespread rural poverty.

“Better access to data could dramatically improve both farm productivity and profitability,” says Chris Addison, CTA Senior Programme Coordinator for Data4Ag. The activities managed by Addison and his colleague Chipo Msengezi are now bringing about real and tangible change.

One of the main pillars of their work since 2017 has involved the digital profiling of over 85,000 farmers who are members of eight farmers’ organisations across Africa. Farmer profiling can yield a wide range of benefits: it can help to improve access to inputs and extension services, can provide the information banks require before they provide credit, and can help farmers find new markets.

One example of how data has transformed lives can be seen in Uganda, where the digital profiling of coffee farmers by the National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises (NUCAFE) has given farmers access to global certification. Just 6 months after this CTA-funded project was launched, international buyers from Italy were offering profiled farmers €3.51 per kg of coffee, compared to €2.16 paid for untraceable coffee of a similar quality. For a typical Arabica coffee farm of 0.4ha producing an average 600 kg per year, this translated into additional income of €850 a year. “In 2018, over 3,000 farmers saw their incomes increase by over 25% thanks to the traceability of their coffee and access to certified markets,” says Addison. He estimates that 10 times as many members of NUCAFE could benefit in 2019.

CTA is also responsible for managing the capacity development element of the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) project, known as GODAN Action. This initiative promotes the sharing and use of data to make information about agriculture and nutrition accessible and usable for all.

Through face-to-face training sessions, webinars and online training courses, open data users acquire the skills and knowledge they need to tackle food security and nutritional challenges. Following its launch in 2017, GODAN Action significantly increased its outreach and influence during 2018.

Four editions of the e-learning course – designed in 2017 at a workshop hosted by CTA and organised by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization – attracted over 3,000 participants, including ‘infomediaries’ such as journalists and ICT workers, as well as policymakers, project managers, researchers and scientists. Those who took part now have a good understanding of the principles and benefits of using open data.

By September 2018, around 1,500 people had also taken part in CTA webinars on open data. These give participants the opportunity to ask questions and receive feedback on a wide range of topics. CTA has found that these are a good way of reaching relatively large audiences and encouraging different communities to share their experiences. Over 4,000 people now read CTA’s GODAN material online each month and there is a vibrant community of practice for GODAN trainers.

According to André Laperrière, GODAN Executive Director, CTA has played a significant part in promoting GODAN and its activities. “They’ve been helpful in many different ways,” he says. “They provided funding – but that’s just a minor part of it. They have been particularly influential in terms of capacity building and training, and they have helped to influence policymakers and others, especially in Africa.”  

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