26 April 2023, New Delhi: CABI’s expertise in digital development – in bringing science-based agricultural knowledge to millions of smallholder farmers, helping them to increase their yields – has been showcased at the Meetings of Agricultural Chief Scientists of G20 States in India.
Dr Ulrich Kuhlmann, Executive Director, Global Operations, attended the event – which was held in Varanasi – under the G20 theme of ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future.’
The G20 is an intergovernmental forum of 19 countries and the European Union – representing around 85% of the global GDP – to address major issues relating to the global economy. This includes global financial stability, climate change mitigation and sustainable development.
Dr Kuhlmann gave a presentation entitled ‘Digital Agriculture: Digital Farm Advisory – Opportunities and Challenges.’ This highlighted the value of public and private-sector extension services and how mobile phone and internet technologies can help give the best advice to farmers – helping them maximise productivity and profits.
The presentation underscored that while direct evidence linking extension services and productivity is limited – existing studies do show positive returns in respect of higher yields, profitability and greater food security.
One of the challenges facing extension systems is reaching farmers in remote locations. While the majority of smallholder farmers have poor access to extension agents, women are particularly disadvantaged compared to men.
Dr Kuhlmann said that weak extension systems restrict the ability to support farmers in mitigating the impacts of crop pests and diseases which are often exacerbated by climate change.
“One way in which farmers can be reached is by mobile phone and internet. 73% of all internet users are expected to be accessing webpages via a smartphone by 2025 – compared to 57% currently. However, vast inequalities exist in respect of gender, geography and income,” he said.
He added that identifying the best app or web-based application for specific needs in agriculture is difficult. But, to try and meet this challenge, CABI conducted a landscape analysis to identify apps and web-based applications designed to assist in crop production.
So far, CABI has identified 830 agricultural digital tools – 636 Android apps, 50 Apple apps and 144 websites – all of which have been collated within the Crop App Index which was launched in February 2022. This allows users to search both the Google and Apple Play Stores simultaneously and refine results using filters such as country, language and crop.
Dr Kuhlmann said, “While the text and user rating scores in the app stores can give an indication of the quality of an app, these reviews are subjective and sometimes the user’s star-level rating and information do not match – thereby questioning the validity of the review.
“To help address this issue, CABI intends to develop and apply a comprehensive framework for the assessment and evaluation of agricultural apps against and set of predetermined criteria.”
This work builds upon general lessons learnt in how to do digital development well – mostly by doing it poorly – and includes consideration of aspects such as ‘lack of connection to end-users and real-world problems’ and ‘poor track record of uptake and use.’
Moving forward, Dr Kuhlmann said, is a desire to adhere to a set of nine ‘living’ guidelines to help better access and implement digital technology solutions which are known as ‘The Principles for Digital Development.’
Under the stewardship of The Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), these principles include application of standards to make it easier to recognise and evaluate quality, making using of research, tools and resources available, and shared principles to avoid pitfalls.
“In future, CABI is now working towards the utilisation of a Toolkit – powered through the PlantwisePlus programme – which builds upon its landscape analysis and Crop App Index to provide a collection of digital advisory tools. These support the decision making of agricultural advisors, including extension officers and agro-input dealers.
“With this Toolkit, advisors will have access to the latest information on pest diagnosis, integrated pest management including the CABI BioProtection Portal and more,” Dr Kuhlmann said.
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