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Egypt Nile Delta: Rural Advisory

Egypt: e-Advisories for irrigation farmers / Nile Delta Water Management Project

The objective of national agricultural extension services is to reach out to all farmers of the country and to provide them with information and knowledge on best agricultural practices so that they can make most out of their businesses and provide the country’s population with the required food.

„Introducing new information technology application in all levels starting at the village is a must if agricultural development efforts are to materialize.” Sustainable Agriculture Development Strategy Towards 2030, (2009)

e-extension can be defined as the use of electronic technologies to enhance traditional extension approaches (such as written and face-to-face) so as to enable change. Digital extension is similar, except that it only includes digital technologies and thus excludes, for instance, the radio.

PROBLEM:

Farmers require access to knowledge about the optimal agricultural practices for the crops they plant. Soil, geography, and weather conditions are influencing this advice, infestation by pest and diseases needs immediate actions. Agricultural extension services offered by governments, NGOs and value chain actors, aim to fill this knowledge gap by providing information on best practices, market prices, weather information, and training and education on certification standards in a timely manner. But often, extensionists have to travel long distances to visit the farmers for a face-to-face consultation. And farmers frequently need transport to travel to training events on demo plots. In addition, the Egyptian national extension service reduces staff while farmer numbers are increasing. In Africa, it is estimated that there is one extension officer per 4,000 farmers, while FAO recommends one officer per 400 farmers. If only field-level extensionists are considered, there is one officer per 7000 farmers in Egypt (based on GFRAS figures 2011[1]). FAO suggests this indicator for the monitoring of advisory efforts. However – the digital approach is not reflected here[2]. This entails that the majority of farmers lack access to face-to-face extension services. And the lack of timely advice for planting, fertilizing, fighting pests and diseases, and harvesting can lead to devastating results – crop destruction and loss of harvest and livestock. In addition to this, the Covid19 pandemic added the problem that face-to-face advice was impossible, so traditional advisory was disrupted. The high average age of extension professionals further endagers the existing system, as existing knowledge is not institutionalized and threatens to be lost with the retirement of the professionals.

SOLUTION:

Digital extension services (or e-advisory) allow traditional extension services to add an alternative channel for dissemination of their advice. Digital extension delivery services are gaining ground as cost-effective and accessible platforms for knowledge transfer and exchange. This can only be a supplement and cannot replace personal visits, farmer field schools and practical training on the property. ICTs have already changed the reality of agricultural advisory and extension services, allowing to reach out to larger numbers of farmers through SMS and IVR. Studies have shown that SMS-based advisory increased wheat production from one ton per hectare to three tons in Ethiopia. According to Porciello, Coggins et al, 2021, e-advisory and digital extension services represent around 80% of all digital service types in agriculture.[3] Simple e-advisory systems allow extensionists to send messages to pre-defined groups of farmers. More sophisticated systems which are connected to farmer registries allow sending farmer-specific, customized and localized messages. This requires prior profiling of the farmers. These systems are called ‘push’-systems as the messages are pushed to the farmers in intervals determined by the extensionists.

In contrast to this, ‘pull’-systems allow farmers to ask questions and demand for specific advice in case of problems. Underlying technology can be USSD or App technology. Under research are systems, where artificial intelligence is used to deliver appropriate answers and where Chatbots allow to directly communicate with the system.

Digital extension services exist on many levels: e-advisory can be provided by governmental extension services, NGOs and projects, as well as on the farmer-to-farmer basis. Some solutions rely on access to wifi or mobile data and imply ownership of a smartphone, while others only require a simple phone that can receive SMS, or even no phone at all, simply an FM radio.

TYPICAL USE:

Egyptian farmers typically receive advice and information through official Facebook sites, bulk SMS services, IVR, or online using their smartphones to access useful apps and websites, watch videos. E-Advisory services are often combined with other functions such as market linkages, access to finance and insurance etc.

PREREQUISITES:

To access most of these solutions a farmer would need to have access to a simple mobile phone. Smartphones and mobile data would enable farmers to access apps and online video platforms, as well as services offering online consultation through a chat or video call with an advisor. Fortunately, in Egypt, most farmers own phones and a smartphone usually is available within each family. In the African context, literacy rate is relatively high and in case illiteracy of the target group is low, there usually is a family member who can help out or the systems use pre-recorded voice messages or the community radio to bridge this gap.

CHALLENGES:

A low digital literacy of the farmer is a potential challenge, the lack or low performance of mobile networks, access to technology as well as electricity. However, in the case of Egypt in general and of the Nile Delta in particular, digital literacy rate, access to electricity and mobile network coverage are relatively good. For the implementation of e-advisory, one needs to know how to use the available resources correctly and to their full potential. While using simple mobile phones might be intuitive, downloading and installing an app, searching for necessary information, accessing videos and support chats requires a certain experience with a smartphone. Also, the use of mobile data implies continuous costs.

Another challenge is the adoption rate. Reading or receiving an extension message does not necessarily change the behaviour of the farmer. The message first must be understood by the farmer and then the message has to convince the farmer to apply the content. The evaluation of a GIZ e-extension project in India revealed, that approximatively only 10% of farmers who read and advice message followed this advice.

TECHNOLOGIES:

From simple to complex, there are

  • Push-system pumping advice and information messages via SMS or voice mails;
  • USSD- and IVR-based push-on-demand systems with pre-defined menus for specific contents;
  • Pull systems (typically in combination with call centres). Often smart-phone base, which allow integration of photos and videos.
  • Internet forums with discussion groups around topics and clearly defined roles and permissions of the users
  • Highly advanced, AI-powered systems, eventually with Chatbots.

PROPOSED SOLUTIONS:

  1. The study suggests introducing a Digital Agricultural Forum, managed by the CAAEE, with content oversight by the ARCs. Such a forum can reach those farmers directly, that own a smartphone and have the required digital skills, and indirectly it can reach out to all farmers via lead farmers, farmers’ neighbours or any family member of the farmer owning a smartphone. Forum participants can come from any agriculture-related profession, organisation, main users are farmers and those, who give advice. Advice can come from the ARCs, from CAAEE staff, from agrodealers as well as from other farmers. The platform thus is inclusive and multi-disciplinary. The ARCs have a supervisory role in relation to content: they can either provide approved answers to the questions raised, or mark as approved the answers given by third parties, that they consider to be correct. Such platform continually builds up a database of questions and answers, that can help answering questions that were previously already asked. This database later can also serve as the backbone for an AI-driven advisory chatbot. We suggest integrating the agricultural forum platform with CAAEE’s Web services that are under development, and thus to build it with the Drupal CMS already in use at CAAEE.
  2. The agricultural platform later can be completed by a Community Platform which allows Egypt’s farming stakeholders to communicate, exchange ideas and to present their agribusinesses. A community platform combines functionalities like those provided by Facebook and WhatsApp and integrates them into the forum. The Consultant suggests, to build such community platform on the freely available open source platform Open Social. This software is a Drupal extension and thus it will be possible to integrate the Community Platform with the Agricultural Forum Platform.

NOTES:

On a broader level, it is important to note that while digital extension holds promise to reduce the cost of providing smallholder farmers with access to information, it cannot be seen as a panacea for increasing agricultural productivity in Egypt. By helping to reach farmers with more and hopefully better-quality extension, digital extension can facilitate the adoption of best practices and the use of better quality and more appropriate inputs and services. For this reason, digital extension can be a great opportunity catalyst for broader agricultural change. However, ensuring the quality of advice, finding connections to “human” advisors in rural areas, and promoting sustainability by supporting high-potential enterprises while helping to regulate the market power of large companies are crucial to ultimately fulfilling this promise.

Niger: Digital Agriculture Strategy (Stratégie e-Agriculture)

In 2022, GIZ and FAO launched the conjoint project to elaborate the national digital agriculture strategy for the Republic of Niger. Building on an assessment of FAO the German Cooperation, via the project ProMAP, financed this work formulating the following objectives: to provide Niger with framework documents for coordinating and steering the development of digital services in the rural sector.
Together with a team of two consultants Dr. Ralph Elsaesser elaborated the vision, orientations, priorities, objectives, expected effects, impacts, strategic axes, logical framework of the e-agriculture strategy  in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture and its partners in the field of the development of digital agricultural services / digital transformation of the rural world. A national e-agriculture strategy now is available that awaits validation in line with the previous results and the relevant sectoral and cross-cutting documents. The documents are completed by a budgeted action plan to support the implementation of Niger’s e-agriculture strategy.

 

The AU Continental Digital Agriculture Strategy for Africa

Dr. Ralph Elsäßer was commissioned as team leader by GFA in the frame of the Policy and Regulation Strategy for Digital Africa to develop the Continental Digital Agriculture Strategy for Africa (DAS). The strategy was finalized in 2023 for the two AU departments AUC-DARBE and AUC-IE and await ratification of the 55 AU member states.

The DAS consits of four elements:

  • Situation Analysis Report – a structured assessment of the baseline situation for digitization of the national agricultural systems of each of the 55 member states.
  • The AU Digital Agriculture Strategy (DAS) – Definition of Vision, Mission, Objectives and goals; provision of guidelines for the development of National Digital Agriculture Strategies (NDAS) for the 55 member states.
  • Implementation Plan with strategic objectives, activities and tasks, estimated budgets and potential implementation partners.
  • Monitoring-Framework.

A series of meetings with FAO, ITU, AGFRA, IFAD, NEPAD, SmartAfrica, World Bank, AfDB, Commonwealth, ECOWAS, COMESA, UMA, ECCAS, SADC, EAC, CEN-SAD, USAID, GIZ, ENABEL, AFD, GSMA, ATO, ILO, UNDCE, CGIAR, CTA/OACPS, GFAR, OECD, UNDP and national Ministries for Agriculture, Fishery, Livestock, Environment and Technology/Innovation facilitated the elaboration of the strategy on the basis of the various standpoints and knowledge bases, which delivers impulses for the Digital Transformation of the African Agriculture on continental, regional and national level.

Digitizing the African livestock sector

For the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), digital technologies have a crucial role in promoting the implementation of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. BMZ is supporting the efforts of its partner countries to harness the potential of a digital transformation by supporting the development of digital infrastructure and, above all, investments in people’s abilities, in education, and in creating good general conditions for the fair and open development of a digitalised world.

As early as in 2015, the BMZ launched its Digital Africa initiative, thus creating an innovative tool for firmly linking development cooperation and the digital world. Under the umbrella of the initiative, BMZ supports
projects that use digital technology to achieve development goals. One focus area is the promotion of homegrown digital innovations that target the African agriculture and food sectors. Many start-ups already provide innovative digital solutions that address challenges related to market access, service provision, processing and logistics but have not yet reached scale. This is where BMZ comes in. It promotes business development or expansion through tailor-made measures and facilitates access to investment and partnerships for growth. In the new BMZ 2030 reform strategy, digital technology will continue to be a defining element of value-based and forward-looking development cooperation.

This report gives valuable insights into the dynamic and fast-growing field of digital solutions for sustainable livestock value chain development in Africa. It can help end users and project implementers to identify digital solutions which best support their efforts of building sustainable livestock value chains. Testimonials of the founders of digital start-ups show an impressive creativity in finding simple digital solutions to solve complex problems of livestock value chain actors – and also point out where support is still needed to continue and expand their endeavours.

ICTs for Small Scale Irrigation

Funding:

BMZ/GIZ: German Federal Ministry of Economical Cooperation

Consulting:

GIZ: German Corporation for Technical Cooperation

Project:

Modern information technologies help small-scale farmers in many ways. From improved communication to better access to information, from training videos to market access, phones, apps, drones, sensors and computers are becoming more and more popular. Apps for early warning, weather data and identification of crop health problems, apps and programs for financial management and mobile banking are emerging everywhere.

ICT specifically designed for small-scale irrigation, however, is rare. While it plays a major role for improving irrigation efficiency and for monitoring irrigation water use at regional and national scale, there are only few apps specifically dedicated to small-scale irrigation. This has to be seen as an opportunity to invest in this technology field. The number of farmers in small-scale irrigation in Africa and Asia is large, and their demand for technology is high.

Four fields of application deserve a closer look:

  • ICT-driven improvement of water use efficiency
  • ICT for behavioral change in SSI
  • ICT and monitoring in SSI
  • Smallholders’ access to SSI-related information

The challenge is, to select the most suitable technology for the given context so that smallholder farmers can afford the solution, can understand and handle the solution, and can start using it to make their businesses and their environment more sustainable. By selecting the right target group and the right technology, ICT can be strong means for the development of the SSI sector in general and for increasing the sustainability of the smallholders’ businesses in particular. It can help farmers understanding and protecting their environment, resolving and avoiding conflicts over resources and managing better the complex relation of different factors of irrigation.

Malawi: NASFAM ICT Study

Funding:

BMZ/GIZ: German Federal Ministry of Economical Cooperation

Consulting:

GIZ: German Corporation for Technical Cooperation

Project

The assignment contributes to the Program “Green Innovation Centers for the Agriculture and Food Sector” (GIAE) under the BMZ´s special initiative “One World, No Hunger”, Malawi country package. The Malawi Country package aims at including ICT solutions as part of the innovations supported by the program, with a crosscutting approach. ICTs have the potential to positively affect the program objectives through several channels, for example bringing transparency and accountability to agricultural value chains using mobile technology and cloud-based data management.

In the GIAE program, GIZ works together with the National Smallholder Farmers´ Association (NASFAM) of Malawi – the largest smallholder owned membership organization of the country. NASFAM provides its members with both commercial services, including access to input and output markets, as well as development services, such as training and support in agricultural best practices. NASFAM and GIAE are interested in exploring the opportunities provided through enhancing digitalization of NASFAM internal data management operations for keeping track of crucial members´ data and transactions, including farmers´ registration, membership payments, purchase of inputs and grain sales.

The goal of this assignment was to provide NASFAM and GIAE a detailed report on possible ICT solutions to digitalize NASFAM`s internal member data management operations, incl. tracking of membership fees payment, total number of members, purchase of inputs through NASFAM, trainings received through NASFAM, and quantities of grain sold to NASFAM. The resulting report provides a detailed report on possible ICT solutions, tailored to NASFAM’s needs and based on an assessment of NASFAM’s resources and skills. An assessment of successes and failures from similar organizations and contexts tailored the four solutions to what is presented in the study results.

Mosambik: ICT tools to enhance the competitiveness of contract farming (ICT4CF)

Funding:

BMZ : German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation

Consulting:

COMO Consult for the German Corporation for International Cooperation GIZ

Project

ICT tools to enhance the competitiveness of contract farming

Within the framework of the GIZ programme “Improving Framework Conditions for a Competitive Private and Financial Sector” (ProEcon), the German Cooperation GIZ supports a wide variety of companies in Mozambique, to successfully introduce ICT-based instruments in contract farming. Dr. Ralph Elsaesser was contracted for a period of 36 months to support selected companies by giving technical support in the selection or development of suitable tools, in contract negotiations with local IT companies and in the implementation of the projects. Local IT capacities get identified (Hackathons, surveys) and receive support in development of suitable business models for innovative ICT4Ag solutions which get developed for Agri-Businesses in Manica, Sofala, Zambezia and Nampula..

 

 

Mosambik: ICT4Agriculture support in Contract Farming

Funding:

Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development BMZ

Consulting:

COMO via Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GIZ

Project

Analysis of the potential of introducing ICT in Contract Farming in Mozambique.

Enhancing value chain efficiency trough better information management in contract farming has a high potential. A higher quality of the products, shorter transport times and better planning basis are advantageous for the buyer, direct access to sound knowledge, faster payment and a better market access are benefits for the farmer.  Traceability, difficult to achieve without ICT, is becoming important for export and fair trade. Internet access by Smartphones is given almost everywhere worldwide which allows to apply modern technologies in remote areas. The project is designed as a pilot with Companhia do Vanduzi as partner. Later upscaling is foreseen if the project proofs to be successfull.

 

Belize: Institutional Development of the Sugar Industry Management Information System SIMIS

Funding:

European Union

Consulting:

NIRAS A/S

Project

The Belizean sugar industry is one of the backbones of the country’s economy. 90% of the produced sugar are exported to the European Union. It is expected that sugar prices will fall by 25-35% after the withdrawal of EU sugar price support in 2017. To avoid economic collapse for the Belizean sugar industry the only appropriate answer to this imminent global decline in sugar prices is an increase of the sugar industry’s efficiency.

The lack of information on sugar cane acreages, productivity values, parcel ownership etc. has been identified as one of the major challenges for the sustainability and resilience of the sugar industry in Belize. In 2013 it has been agreed among all stakeholders that the introduction of a performant management information system accompanied by a comprehensive data inventory is necessary. The European Union supports this process by supporting the Sugar Industry Research and Development Institutes SIRDI in the development of such a system. InPhase 1 of the project a comprehensive inventory of the parcels under sugar cane production was realized and a farmer database was established.

Phase 2, started September 2015, targets the development of a multi-stakeholder shared management information system meeting the the needs of all stakeholders of the Belizean sugar industry. This system aims to enhance processes in planning and execution through introduction of transparency and trust.

The development of GIS-based models for forecasting productivity and harvesting cycle and a barcode-based delivery system allowing to track the cane from the field to the mill shall help to enhance the efficiency of transport and transformation of the cane. Geomatics play a major role as spatial variability of soil parameters, geomorphological and climatological parameters cannot be handled without geographical information systems.