Information technology (IT) multinational IBM on December 7 announced its active support for the Digital4Agriculture Initiative (D4Ag), which aims to foster African startups in the agricultural sector and strengthen the long-term living conditions of local small-scale farmers by increasing productivity and quality.
With the help of digital expertise from IBM Services and access to accurate weather data provided by IBM’s The Weather Company, D4Ag is helping more than 36 African agricultural companies become better prepared for the digital future.
Reliable weather forecasts are very difficult to make for Africa’s agricultural industry as a result of a lack of IT infrastructure.
Small agricultural enterprises not only lack Internet access and suitable hardware, but existing data is often unreliable or difficult to process, says technology entrepreneurship initiative Make-IT in Africa consultant Desiree Winges. Make-IT in Africa is responsible for D4Ag in Africa.
By making high-resolution weather data available to agricultural startups, D4Ag is providing valuable information to small-scale farmers that can help them make important decisions with greater confidence. For example, historical weather data from a tea plantation served as training material and showed how data analysis can be used to increase yields, as well as to determine the best time to harvest or the optimal use of fertilisers or pest control.
"We want to help local startups to reach more customers and develop new markets. To this end, we provide them with basic knowledge in the areas of data analytics, interoperability and business modelling. We also want to promote cooperation between startups and platform operators to fully exploit the opportunities of the digital world," she says.
"Small farmers are the backbone of Africa's food supply and their success and quality of life depends upon having reliable weather forecast data and insights. We are proud to provide African farmers with weather information and services access to help them better manage and improve their crop production," says IBM Public Sector account executive Florian Scheil.
Experts from the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and IBM Services have been working on the project for about three years and have developed a digital coaching concept for startups offering agricultural services to African farmers. The high-resolution weather data, which serves as a basis, is provided by The Weather Company.
To achieve this, IBM Services and GIZ have created a three-stage, interactive training concept consisting of individual e-learning, workshops on business modelling, interoperability and data analytics and detailed materials with tips and suggestions for future projects.
The virtual training lasted several weeks and showed the participants how to use high-resolution weather data and up-to-date alerts to help smallholders grow their products more sustainably and healthily.
In the workshop, participants were able to analyse historical data about a tea plantation and determine whether there is, for example, a correlation between weather conditions and yields.
"The next step was to use the results for the future. If you discover a pattern, you can plan future harvest phases accordingly and thus increase yields in the long term," explains D4Ag Capacity Development Workshop trainer Silas Macharia.
Overall, the use of weather data can make our food healthier: if a farmer adapts the use of fertilisers to the weather, he can reduce the amount of fertiliser needed. Consumers benefit from healthy products, while farmers can get a better price for high quality products. This can be tracked - right up to the supermarket shelf - by block-chain-based platforms such as FoodTrust.
Access to information from the industry enables startups to establish themselves successfully on the market in the long term, thus ensuring more jobs in the region and stable growth. In the first edition of the training sessions, more than 36 startups from 13 African countries took part.
The GIZ is implementing the D4Ag programme on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development within the framework of the Make-IT in Africa project, which is designed to promote the startup scene in the digital sector of developing and emerging countries together with (primarily) European technology companies, startups, associations, research and science, and non-governmental organisations.
IBM joined the Make-IT Alliance in 2017 as part of its #GoodTechIBM programme.