Please RSVP now for ICTforAg on June 3, at FHI 360 in Washington, DC. This 1-day conference will bring together +150 thought leaders and decision makers in agriculture and technology from the international development community and the private sector to examine how new innovations can empower smallholder farmers, and the entire value chains that support them, through the use of information and communication technologies.

We’ll take a particular interest in precision technologies – from mobile apps, to sensors, to satellites – that can boost the productivity of both smallholder farmers and agriculture value chains, but we’ll be sure to keep the discussion inclusive of all possible ICTs, including digital financial services, agribusiness IT systems, and extension agent support technologies.

ICTforAg is supported by Abt Associates, DAI, and FHI 360.

The Problem

Smallholder farms dominate most of the developing world; the vast majority of farms in India and Africa measure less than two hectares (five acres). Yields in Africa average just one ton per hectare or less than 20 bushels an acre for maize. Smallholder farmers face numerous other challenges too, like decreasing land sizes, difficult enabling environments, and volatile markets.

These challenges limit farmers’ ability to increase their incomes or even feed themselves. In the developing world, half of those who are food insecure are smallholder farmers and their families. However, farmers could increase productivity if knowledge, access, and incentives align along the value chain in support of farmers and agriculture stakeholders making new investments and adopting new practices.

Potential Solutions

Recently, several trends have come together to make mature commercial agriculture market technologies increasingly accessible and affordable in the developing world.

One technology is precision agriculture – site specific farming that matches natural variability in soils, microclimates, plants, and other factors with customized, location–specific inputs of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, water, etc. Precision agriculture can reduce costs, increase yields, and improve profitability. Done right, precision agriculture also improves environmental outcomes and climate-resilience simultaneously.

In addition, agribusinesses could be supporting farmers better by using digital financial services and enterprise IT systems to understand and interact more profitably with farmers, and governments could leverage a whole range of technologies to improve extension agent practices and effectiveness.

The challenge is how to make sure these innovations are relevant to agriculture value chains reliant on smallholder farmers, and increase access to new high potential technologies with interventions that support local market systems and ongoing locally-relevant innovations.

Trends to Examine

We see several exciting emerging ICTforAg trends that are reducing barriers to mature-market technologies and opening up opportunities to new high potential innovations that can be developed by and for local agricultural stakeholders, including:

  • Increasing saturation of mobile devices, greater sophistication of mServices for farmers, and wider adoption of relevant ICT tools, are allowing for micro-targeting of farmer-centric information and high-quality evaluation of mService impact.
  • Radical price decreases in new remote sensing technologies, including cheap soil, air, water, and plant sensors, and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) promise to provide precise intra-farm data and guide input delivery even on sub-hectare farms.
  • Near-free, near-real time satellite and GIS data, coupled with greater processing power and connectivity of GPS-enabled mobile devices, is putting unprecedented geolocation data and modeling potential in the hands of farmers and extension agents.
  • Digital financial services, including mobile money and micro-insurance, that allow farmers and farmer cooperatives to offset risk, reduce transaction costs, and increase credit based on automatically generated farmer financial data.
  • Increasingly vibrant and capable local IT companies that can produce and service enterprise-level IT systems for agribusinesses that are tailored to unique country and crop contexts, and designed from the onset to be profitable, and thereby sustainable, for all parties involved.
  • A greater sense by all parties involved that farmer adoption of any new technology will require a robust, informed, and trained extension agents acting a change catalysts with lead farmers to show by example what can be accomplished when farmers accept and implement innovations.

Please RSVP now for ICTforAg to examine these trends with an exciting mix of educational keynotes, lightning talks, and group breakouts, including interactive learning lunch tables and an evening reception to foster needed networking across sectors.

When you RSVP, be sure to note if you’d like to make a presentation, organize a session, or lead a learning lunch table. Our aim is to create a day of intense exploration of the already possible and soon-to-be potential that will move us from talk to ICTforAg action.