The AgriPath project is evaluating the effectiveness of digital, in-person, and hybrid extension services across Uganda, Tanzania, India, Burkina Faso, and Nepal. The five-year project seeks to strengthen country-specific knowledge on gender and youth involvement among smallholder farmers.
AgriPath aims to help small-scale rural farmers and extension agents in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia navigate the unpredictability of farming due to the changing climate. By employing focus groups and lab-in-the-field experiments, AgriPath identifies and scales effective and inclusive pathways for digital advisory services to reach smallholders.
farmbetter, The Grameen Foundation, The International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), The Center for Development and Environment at University of Berne, The University of Lausanne, and The Grameen Foundation of India collaborated to launch AgriPath. The project was made possible with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation & Development (BMZ) implemented through GIZ.
Benjamin Gräub, Co-CEO of farmbetter, emphasizes that prioritization of country-specific knowledge is essential when designing the user experience of digital advisory services. This is particularly true, he says, as land degradation, biodiversity loss, and the climate crisis affect each region differently.
“We feel that the country-specific knowledge and location-specific knowledge are the key for farmers to be able to take care of the soil, keep yields up, and be better prepared for droughts, floods, and even cold spells,” Gräub tells Food Tank.
AgriPath builds off of farmbetter’s existing products, including an app which provides information on how to adapt farming practices amid climate change. Smallholders input information about their farm into the app, including location, climate, and crop selection. The farmbetter algorithm then gauges the farm’s resiliency and responds with a personalized index of technical farming practices. Gräub explains that the platform is designed to make up for the limited presence of agricultural extension agents who act as knowledge keepers for smallholders.
The AgriPath project works to strengthen farmbetter’s efficacy by collecting anonymous data on users to better understand smallholders’ general engagement with the app. According to John Choptiany, Co-CEO and Resilience Expert at farmbetter, AgriPath’s initial focus group discussion and data collection has already begun to reveal the potential of digital advisory services adoption.
Place-based guidance is important to the project’s success for both farmers and extension agents. “Our main goal is to reach smallholder farmers in each of the project countries and provide them with tailored and locally-relevant advice that will help them with their agricultural production,” Maurice Tschopp, an AgriPath coordinator from the Center for Development and Environment at University of Berne, tells Food Tank. “Our project also aims to train extension agents and give them new tools to reach and engage with farmers.”
AgriPath recently held their first workshop in Nepal. Choptiany reports that participants were enthusiastic and eager to collaborate.
“We found that even though some differences like the use of Messenger versus Whatsapp are different, there are a lot of similarities between countries and the farmers there, needing access to more tailored knowledge to improve their farms and increase their resilience,” Choptiany tells Food Tank.
AgriPath works with the five target countries to analyze the overall effectiveness of different extension service formats. Gräub, Choptiany, and Tschopp agree that women and children smallholders are at the heart of the Agripath project.
“Women and youth are often marginalized and we have been focusing on how to make the app appealing and effective for these groups, from the design, hardware/software requirements in the phones and how extension agents can reach those without smartphones through messaging platforms like WhatsApp,” says Choptiany.
The AgriPath project’s preliminary findings support their decision to focus efforts on gender and youth demographics.
“Some of the first results that we got from [focus group discussions] are that women have lower access to smartphones, which is expected,” says Tschopp. “Many women feel they don’t know how to use these tools and are lacking confidence. Economic constraints are also important… Hence the topic of access to smartphones is linked to labor market structure.”
AgriPath is currently targeting 50,000 smallholders, as well as 250 extension agents. But AgriPath partners and contributors hope the findings extend far beyond the project and farmbetter.
“We don’t want to work in a silo. We hope that our main intervention can be up-scaled and we will share our research results with all relevant actors, including local populations. In that regard, AgriPath will be successful, if we can inform the debate on digitalization and develop new insights on how digital tools can contribute to the transition toward sustainability,” Tschopp tells Food Tank.
Articles like the one you just read are made possible through the generosity of Food Tank members. Can we please count on you to be part of our growing movement? Become a member today by clicking here.
Photo courtesy of farmbetter