May 2021: CropIn and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) have partnered in a new program that seeks to increase the access to extension services by farmers in Africa. AGRA works with governments, private sector companies and other organizations to bring knowledge and extension services to farmers through the use of self-employed Village-Based Advisors (VBAs).
In the new partnership, CropIn and AGRA will select and train 10,626 entrepreneurial VBAs to reach three million farmers in Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Tanzania and Mozambique. The VBAs will facilitate the training of farmers through ‘mother and baby’ demonstrations – where ‘mother’ is a demonstration site and ‘baby’ is the farmer’s own plot. Regular performance comparisons of the ‘mother and baby’ plots will be made to assess the quality of training received by farmers.
CropIn, an artificial intelligence (AI) led Software as a Service (SaaS) based agritech organization, will also offer a centralized digitalization platform that will be accessed by AGRA, its implementation partners and VBAs for a comprehensive review of farmer engagements. SaaS is a software licensing and delivery model in which software is licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted. The platform will generate farmer scores based on the historical performance of their plots and other socio-economic factors, enabling CropIn and AGRA to make appropriate adjustments in their support. Additionally, the digitalization of VBA activity will enhance their linkages with other service providers to increase their capacity for the last-mile delivery of agricultural inputs and services.
CropIn’s Chief Revenue Officer, Jitesh Shah, said: “In these unprecedented times, VBAs have restricted movement, and are unable to train farmers in gatherings of more than 2-10 persons. There is, therefore, a critical need to improve on a digital extension to ensure that farmers continue to gain access to information, and the inputs they need to sustainably increase productivity and income. Knowledge dissemination and advisory services to farmers via VBAs will be provided through the digital platform by the remotely-placed agronomists. Advisories provided will be on sustainable farming practices, pest and disease outbreak, weather forecast, and more. We expect to see significant growth in this sector once our solutions are implemented”.
AGRA’s Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, Vanessa Adams added, “There has not been a time when extension and related agbiz services have been needed more than now. Amidst new challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic related market volatility, locust attacks, and the growing effects of climate change, farmers in Africa need all the support available to build resilient and highly productive agricultural systems. Thankfully, we are now able to scale up digital technologies to work around some of the accessibility limitations to sustain impactful interactions linking farmers to agro-dealers and markets across the continent. We see this partnership with CropIn as one of many critical COVID responses to strengthen the VBAs and their farmer services support towards improved livelihoods. This is a learning initiative as well, where the data generated will be critical in informing future plans for last mile development.”
Public sector-driven extension systems in most African countries have been severely weakened by poor logistical support, inadequate training of personnel at local levels and a lack of access to agricultural technologies by farmers. As a result, the extension worker to farmer ratio in most African countries is currently 1:3500 (with many countries reaching 1:10,000) against the recommended 1:400.
The skewed ratio, lack of knowledge on advanced technology and infrastructural lapses pose a huge problem for most farmers, who must travel distances of up to 20 km to access farm inputs and extension services even during the best of times. In the pandemic era, compounded by climate shocks, this situation is worsened due to COVID-19 by the restriction of physical movement for farmers, agricultural service providers and traders. It is such challenges that informed AGRA’s decision to focus on the development of private sector extension networks as a critical enabler towards inclusive agricultural transformation.