June 10, 2021
Although agriculture is the foundation of rural livelihoods across much of the world, accessing information on new technologies, crop varieties, and cultivation methods to improve yield and reduce costs is often difficult. These new technologies could increase farmer incomes and improve rural livelihoods in low-income countries. Growers, agronomists and agents have been restricted in their ability to conduct farm visits and in-person farmer training this year due to COVID. Therefore, digital tools and information delivered via smartphones are playing an increasingly critical role in improving access to technology and information.
Digital Tools & Growers
To be useful, digital tools need to provide localized information relevant to the grower’s specific needs and problems. This will require specific information on where the farmer is located, how large the field is, what their goals are regarding profitability, productivity and marketing. Crops such as watermelons, tomatoes, okra, onions, strawberries, potatoes, traditional vegetables, and beans are becoming popular, since they mature in just four months and can be sold in the market for a profit that is much higher than longer-growing crops such as maize or sugarcane. However, in order to grow these new crops, farmers need to gain new skills and techniques which will ensure the investment in seeds, fertilizers and transportation of the final produce to the market pays off.
Digital Tools & Agronomists
Agronomists and extension agents have a wide range of activities they need to carry out to provide farmers with the information they need. They help farmers choose a crop and variety, select a protocol for managing the crop, determine how to care for the soil, and make many other decisions. Every agronomist needs to have a strong connection to the farmers that they support, which usually involves a great deal of driving from one part of their region to another, visiting fields and growers. Changing travel restrictions and a desire to have less physical contact with visitors has meant that many farmers have had to go without advice.
Digital tools will allow agronomists to monitor field sand their progress remotely, expanding their ability to engage with more growers. Although no replacement for strong relationships, digital tools can help agronomists advise farmers on potential problems and solutions, including diseases, soil management and climate-resilient crop remotely, using satellite observations and photos taken by the farmer to identify and diagnose problems as they occur. The foundation of this advice is an accurate field boundary, which allows for calculating appropriate planting density and application rates. Over or under-application of fertilizer or crop protection chemicals, improper planting density, and other errors of crop management can easily occur without accurate field area.
6th Grain’s Field Monitoring Solutions
6th Grain’s FieldFocus and FieldFocus Light digital tools, designed for Android smartphones and tested in Kenya, allow agronomists and agents to engage with growers. The tool provides:
- Off-line capabilities that allow farmers to access data when there is no cellular service;
- High quality services with very little data transfer for inexpensive operations;
- Accurate field digitizing tools which use a unique ‘Follow Me’ function, allowing the farmer to walk around their plot no matter how small and measure its size;
- Record keeping that lets the farmer schedule activities across multiple fields to ensure that planting, weeding, and harvesting occur on schedule for optimal profitability; and
- Observation request tool that will let agronomists request photos of the field from farmers, or photos shared with agronomists to diagnose problems or insects discovered in a field.
These and other tools will help agronomists and agents continue to provide high quality service even when they cannot travel to visita field directly.