Program Lead - Smallholder Supply Chains, International Finance Corporation (IFC)
In Conversation With
Alan Johnson, the Program Lead for Smallholder Supply Chains, at International Finance Corporation (IFC), has been working in the agriculture sector for close to 30 years now, taking up different roles over the years. He began his career with the Agriculture Bank of Papua New Guinea, moving on then to private sector consulting working with the UK Government, and most recently with the IFC in various roles in Africa and Asia. He is currently based in Hanoi, Vietnam. His strong belief in promoting sustainability as well as social justice motivated him to work in this domain. He believes that development of agriculture can make strong, positive contributions to both these areas. He continues to be inspired by both the importance and the urgency of the agriculture challenge.
“We need to develop a sustainable food system in the context of the climate emergency. And, as so many of the world’s underprivileged are dependent on agriculture, getting this right could also bring widespread poverty-reducing effects. I think digital technology now offers possibilities for positive change that were not there a few years ago ,” says Alan Johnson.
In what ways has the global pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology in agriculture? What has the impact been like so far?
How relevant is digital agriculture today to minimise disruption to everyday activities while also ensuring the safety of an individual amidst the global pandemic?
What are some of the optimum approaches to ensure that smallholder farmers have the necessary digital skills needed to reduce the digital divide and to significantly improve their crop production?
Alan Johnson: We need to look at digital literacy in the same way that achieving universal functional literacy is seen as an essential part of development. This is an important issue for both the public and private sectors.
Even beyond digital literacy, there are lots of barriers to the adoption of new technology more generally. It becomes more of a behaviour change challenge. Seen from the perspective of smallholder farmers, there are many concerns with new technology around upfront costs, inherent risks, and the magnitude and probability of the expected increase in productivity, the complexity of the new technology and, of course, financial returns. But it is not just a matter of incentives.
Behaviour change is a complex process. Other factors come into play as well, such as the capability and motivation of the smallholders to use the technology, the opportunity or ease of access the farmers have to the technology, and the availability of support services. Peer acceptance and adoption are also important factors. We have been working on an Ag Tech “Deep Dive” at IFC, and among the respondents we engaged with, a low rate of technology adoption among smallholder farmers was identified as one of the biggest concerns for the future of the sector.
Your work for a period of four years involved working in the malt barley sector, especially in Ethiopia where the project you were a part of convinced smallholder farmers to adopt modern commercial farming techniques. You had mentioned that this project created food security in the region and it also served as a supply chain development project. Was there any resistance from the farmers initially to adopt modern techniques and to transition to digital agriculture, and how did you overcome it?
The use of modern farming equipment to minimise human labour is not entirely feasible on small and disintegrated landholdings. What are some of the alternatives that will enable farmers to achieve higher productivity with minimum labour?
How can agri-stakeholders support smallholder farmers in developing their business management skills to look at farming as a business rather than just subsistence agriculture?
“Seeds of Thought” is our thought leadership series, where we interact with opinion leaders in the field of agriculture and related sectors to gather their insights on agricultural developments and prospects in their region.
The views and opinions expressed in the interview above are solely those of the individual involved and do not necessarily represent those of CropIn Technology Solutions or of any entity that the individual is or has been affiliated with.