Harvest Plus – The Case For African Agriculture
Agribusiness plays a vital role in economic development contributing a major portion of GDP, employment and foreign exchange earnings in many developing countries. Despite its importance, Africa’s Agribusiness sector faces numerous challenges, not least of which is the lack of access to finance, risk, technical assistance and markets. This means that Africa is ill-equipped to meet its food requirements, which are set to double in the next 30 years or even sooner.
Rural communities face a multitude of risks and stresses, from drought to price fluctuations, underemployment, to the accumulated effects of longer-term ecosystem degradation. While farming is an inherently risky business, exciting opportunities exist to further strengthen many risk mitigation and coping strategies farmers already employ and to complement them with community, national and regional level programs designed to help whole populations to manage risks more effectively and build their resilience
Seeing that agriculture accounts for around 75% of employment, 40% of exports and 35% of GDP across the African continent, accelerating growth in agriculture will not only make the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal’s possible, but it is also vital for sustained growth and industrial diversification into Africa. Small-scale farmers, in particular, have been highlighted as a key sector for future agricultural production and food security targets in Africa and globally.
We have worked with our partners conducting trials and projects in Mozambique and Malawi for the past three seasons with approximately 30 000 farmers, looking to use technology to increase yields and revenues of small-scale farmers, mitigate their risk, improve food security and achieve sustainable farming communities.
The model and system which we have developed we have called Harvest +, is a web-based IT system and knowledge management platform. The model combines the critical aspects of the smallholder agri-business model and provides a dynamic, knowledge-rich environment and system for all stakeholders and partners to interact in. (technical data on soils, weather, and evapotranspiration, inputs, training, grower details, financial modelling, crop insurance, markets and price, communications, strategic analysis and reporting, CSR impact etc).
The system receives and combines live and updated satellite information, as well as data from leading international and research institutions, to allow for “ real time “ analysis, scenario planning, forecasting and decision making, pre-planting and during the growing season. Feedback loops and data management through simple practical steps make this a powerful, intelligent and dynamic business tool.
In addition the model gives the opportunity to address, manage, monitor and report on, the major areas and challenges which are critical for smallholder farmers to achieve food security, increased productivity and incomes, mitigate risk at multiple levels, manage social and environmental projects and ensure successful and sustainable farmers and rural communities into the future.
Results have consistently shown that by using Harvest +, correct input package selection, and timely planting, has resulted in significant maize yield increases (50 %) and revenues. This has translated into farmer’s ability to service loans and achieve food security.
We believe that this Harvest + platform and tool could potentially offer significant value to USAID at an organisational level, by helping it achieve it’s stated strategic goals and vision of “Feed The Future”, as well as at an individual project level, for management, traceability, analysis, transparency , accountability and reporting on their projects, partners and sector players, small-scale farmers and supply chain, as well as mitigating risk (correct varietal and fertiliser selection, crop insurance) and increasing access to funding, for their farmers in Africa.
Who are our Partners?
We have partnered with leading European and International technical and academic institutions to provide data feeds from satellites, weather stations, research projects etc. These include;
- ISRIC, UNSDI and ESRI (soils)
- KNMI ( Royal Dutch Institute of Meteorology – weather)
- EARS (evapotranspiration satellite data)
- RCS (IT and development)
Harvest + Model Examples
The system will receive data from external sources, (as per technical partners above, strategic partners etc), as well as from project sources (strategic and supply chain partners, technical team, grower records etc). This data has been combined into a simple but powerful “dashboard view” allowing for the management, analysis, forecasting and scenario planning on critical aspects associated with USAID projects, growers and operations. Critically it also offers accountability and traceability at all levels. Since it is difficult to provide a detailed system analysis in an overview such as this one, we have chosen to rather highlight a few of the features to try and demonstrate what the system does, and how it can be used as a business tool.
Example 1 – Farmer Management
The screen shot below depicts farmers GPS positions. From this blue tab, all the farmer’s details can be accessed from the project master grower sheet. The additional tabs on the left-hand side of the page are used for management and analysis by selecting features required etc. Additional drop down tabs takes the user to new detailed pages. Below are a few such examples;
- Input package management (varietal and seed, fertiliser mix and amount, package costs etc)
- Full farmers details
- Maize, soya, sesame etc deliveries, quality, price from farmers
- Repayment of loans and credit history
- Trend analysis – drought, poor yields, food security, income etc
- Proximity to maize trader and warehouse storage
- Trader delivery details to depot, warehouse receipt storage system
- Linkages to markets and prices
Example 2 – Technical Data and Input Package Management
The user can also select a wide range of technical data from the left-hand side menu tabs that relate to a farm or region. Digital soil data, climate, evapotranspirational and historical records can be combined with the farmers GPS position to proceed to an additional page where the ideal input package can be selected. This page combines the technical data from the previous page and allows the user to select the preferred seed/crop variety, with the correct fertiliser combination to potentially optimise production.
The system can also connect plant breeders/ seed producers, fertiliser suppliers and technical advisors with project managers and farmers. This can then be further refined to match the ideal input package against a weather risk (El Nino year), or available loan finance amount etc. This allows for ideal input package selection, while significantly decreasing the risk of crop failure from wrong varietal selection, and increasing chances of a good harvest and food security.
Example 3 – Crop Insurance and Risk Mitigation
Harvest + can be used to manage, monitor and report on crop failures and associated insurance pay-outs. Crop insurance can be offered and run using the Harvest + system. The system can set triggers using evapotranspirational data to monitor and manage crop failures. If these triggers are “hit” crop insurance payments will be made to affected farmers or funding institutions. The ability to mitigate climate risk for small-scale farmers is key in helping them develop into sustainable and profitable farmers in the long term.
Example 4 – Financial Records and Funding
Harvest + has a full financial and credit history section, that details farmers, loans, credit history, and links farmers with donors or funding institutions and banks etc. The system can show farmers in different colours on the map as to those who have re-paid or defaulted etc.
Example 5 – Social and Environmental Impact Management and Analysis
Screen shot example below shows farmers positions relative to key service provider points such as schools or clinics etc. Sliders below the graphic allow the circles radius to be adjusted to see the number of farmers in proximity that would have access to these facilities. Please note that many other additional features can be added to the system depending on what specific CSR and Impact variables and areas are of importance for AGRA.
Additional current features include;
- Food production and family food security position analysis
- Re-forestation and woodlot management
- Conservation farming practises and training
- Soil Health Program
Please take note that the points above are just a few small examples of what the Harvest + system offers.
The model is also designed to;
- Be developed iteratively season upon season, enriching and improving the knowledge base, functionality and results.
- Be used dynamically and strategically before and during the season for allow for necessary management changes, risk management and increased productivity/ quality.
- Be used collaboratively with other systems and information sources/providers
- Be dynamic and evolve as more features and functionality are developed and added
What Benefits does Harvest + offer AGRA?
- Harvest + is a web-based holistic platform for effectively managing, monitoring and reporting on small-scale farmers.
- Proven increases in productivity and revenues for farmers
- Allows for controlled selective global access by all stakeholders to benefit from using the system
- Ability for key players and partners to interact in a dynamic value-adding enabling environment.
- Single repository for all information, data and records for farmers
- Effective, efficient and affordable administration tool
- Ability to mitigate farmers risk including provision of crop insurance, access to funding etc
- Full tracking of entire farmers value/supply chain from field to market
- Accountability and traceability at all levels
Key Strategic Focus Areas
We believe that this platform and tool could assist AGRA in a number of its key strategic focus areas namely;
- Program for African Seed Systems
- Soil Health Program
- Market access program
- Gender and Agriculture
- Innovative Finance
- Farmers Support Centre in Africa
- In addition, we try to holistically manage and decrease risk for these farmers, which we believe is the key to growth and sustainability in this sector.
We are very aware of the great need to find an effective and affordable risk mitigating solutions, including crop insurance, market and price risk for smallholder farmers. Without this, millions of these small scale farmers will remain exposed to great risk, unable to secure funding for crop inputs and irrigation etc, and increased variable weather which will undoubtedly keep them firmly in the subsistence agriculture poverty trap cycle. This is one of the single biggest issues facing smallholder farmers globally, and one if we are able to improve or resolve for them, will have a significant global impact on this sector in agriculture and the lives of the farmers themselves.
We hope to partner with AGRA and work together to successfully provide the services outlined in this proposal, and ultimately reaching the “Green Revolution Goals”, improving food security, economic growth, incomes and rural resilience and positively impact the lives of millions in Africa