The world’s 500 million smallholders produce two-thirds of the food consumed globally. But they also struggle with low productivity, insufficient incomes, as well as vulnerability to climate change and other environmental challenges. At the same time, they typically lack access to information about practices that could help to improve their agricultural production, secure their livelihoods, and protect their resource base. Public rural advisory services are dwindling around the world, leaving millions of smallholder farmers without adequate support. But there is an innovative way of fighting this negative trend: “digital advisory services” can offer farmers access to crucial agricultural knowledge and support them in increasing their resilience.
To date, however, digital advisory services have only reached a small fraction of smallholders in the global South. Reaching more women and youth, in particular, could lead to substantial gains in farm outputs through equal access to resources. Currently, about half of smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia are women. And in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, over half of youth are engaged in agriculture.
Against this backdrop, there is a need for inclusive, effective pathways for digital advisory services that reach men, women, and youth. Technical and social innovations must be combined, and technology providers require better understanding of how to translate provision of digital information into concrete behaviour change towards sustainable agriculture. It is essential to know who has access to a mobile phone and how farming decisions are made in the household. Shared decision-making can empower women and reduce gender inequality.
The project “AgriPath – Empowering smallholder farmers’ transition to sustainable agriculture through effective and efficient digital pathways” aims to bring sustainable agriculture to scale. By providing farmers and extension services with tailored digital solutions focused on sustainable agricultural practices, female and male smallholders are supported in increasing their agricultural productivity, income, and climate resilience.
AgriPath will examine intra-household decision-making processes, including processes that go beyond established social norms (gender roles) to embrace more democratic access to information and knowledge (e.g. including youth, not just household heads). It will provide evidence on sustainable pathways for use of digital advisory services at scale and enhance uptake of sustainable practices.
AgriPath will provide causal evidence to help mainstream the application of tailor-made digital advisory services, aiming to support the scale up of sustainable agriculture in Africa and Asia. Using a mixed-method approach, the project will run behavioural experiments and randomized controlled trial studies to disentangle the impact of digital solutions offered according to three different models, namely:
Moreover, focus groups and lab-in-the-field experiments will provide country-specific knowledge on gender and youth involvement in sustainable agriculture relevant for contextualizing digital advisory services and facilitating their uptake. The mix of research methods will contribute to a better understanding of farmers’ behaviour and household decision-making processes.
AgriPath’s primary beneficiaries include 250 extension agents from public and private advisory services in five target countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Burkina Faso, Uganda, and Tanzania) and Asia (India and Nepal), in addition to approximately 50,000 smallholders. The project will also engage with partners in at least six neighbouring countries so as to scale its results.
The AgriPath research is designed around one digital application – the farmbetter app – which is co-designed with, and tailored to, its users in the target countries and forms one key component of the different models of digital advisory services subject to analysis. The algorithm of the farmbetter app matches farmers’ needs with the sustainable land management solutions offered in the WOCAT global database.
TRANSFORM Programme of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern
Institute of Sociology, Chair in Sustainable Social Development, University of Bern
Grameen Foundation USA
Grameen Foundation India
icipe, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology
Prof. Dr. Sonja Vogt
Dr. Maurice Tschopp