Digitalization for agriculture (D4Ag) is more than digitization for agriculture. It is more than digital solutions for agriculture. Dr.Benjamin Kwasi Addom, digital agriculture strategist at the Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands talked on “the concept of digitalization and smallholder agriculture” at a virtual workshop on digital agriculture for women entrepreneurs. Organized by the Asian Productivity Organization, in cooperation with the National Productivity Council of India, participants from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam joined this three-day workshop from Nov. 4 to 6, 2020.
The list of what one could digitalize (value chains, leading to digital value chains, etc.) is long. D4Ag (D4ag.com), as Dr. Addom explains, is “the use of digital technologies, innovations and data to transform business models and practices across the agricultural value chain; and address bottlenecks in productivity, post-harvest handling, market access, finance and supply chain management so as to achieve greater income for smallholder farmers, improve food and nutrition security, build climate resilience and expand inclusion of youth and women.”
The concept of digitalization for agriculture takes advantage of the process of digitization that facilitates the transition from analog-to-digital and crucial for big data and analytics. Four components of D4Ag cover digital agriculture innovations (digital solution use cases and digital technologies), big data and analytics (quality content and digital identity), business development services (financing and investment) and lastly, an enabling environment (infrastructure, policies, knowledge, literacy and business ecosystem).
Most of the farmers in my community are into vegetable farming like carrots, lettuce, cabbage or chayote since these are cash crops. Economic demand for Arabica coffee places highland farmers like myself at a great advantage — the opportunity, however, is somewhat negated in favor of vegetable farming, which requires higher costs and intensity of material inputs. I looked into our farming community in Benguet on the possibility of digitalizing agriculture. Emerging technologies in the food supply chains are Internet of Things such as drones and robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain. I have written about blockchain and coffee (July 19, 2019). Blockchain coffee could show information about the coffee origins, where it was grown and what the roaster or producer is doing to support farmers in those locations.
A continuing problem with our vegetable farmers is overproduction of vegetables that just goes to waste when it is not sold. Why does excess fresh produce go to waste when it could be processed? Farmers could be linked to food processors. Digital technology could help address food waste and support healthier diets, achieving sustainability. Small farmers could benefit from the digitalization of agriculture connecting them to markets; information and services through blockchain platforms could resolve trust and traceability challenges. Digitization of market demand needs to be gathered before production even starts, so it could be shared to vegetable growers. Too Good To Go (Toogoodtogo.org) provides an app matching unconsumed supply with unmet demand using alerts to subscribers. Another digital solution that we could adapt in our country is WeFarm, the world’s largest knowledge sharing network and marketplace for small-scale farmers without an internet connection.
WeFarm provides an SMS-based questions and answer service with 280,000 thousand contributors and 1.5 million messages sent per month. Connecting poor farmers through new technologies empowers them to improve their livelihoods, while also providing for a functioning business model.
Reducing food waste across the supply chain is just one of the many problems facing farmers, but it requires policies and regulation from both the national and local government. Policy focus as recommended by think tank CEPS (Ceps.eu) must include:
– Ensuring adequate connectivity
– Promoting entrepreneurship, building capacity and facilitating technology transfer
– Attributing responsibility for negative externalities throughout the value chain
– Providing incentives to shorten the supply chain
– Public policies to enable reallocation of excesses and reduction of food loss and waste
– An ethical and policy framework for AI and data management in B2C
– Raising the skills and awareness of farmers and consumers.
Many more digital solutions are available for farmers, but digital agriculture takes a wholistic approach that involves the four components of D4Ag.