A ground-breaking project that seeks to enhance the adoption of ICTs, improve the content and digital skills for smallholder farmers in Uganda has been launched.
Titled “Enhancing ICT Adoption, Service Delivery, Content and Digital Skills for Smallholder Farmers”, the project is implemented by Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE) in collaboration with Eight Tech Consults, supported by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC).
The UCC is mandated by the Uganda Communications Act 2013 to facilitate the development of a modern communications sector and to harness new technologies in the transformation of the country into a knowledge-based economy.
It is through this framework that UCC through UCUSAF launched a call for business plan proposals to establish a collaboration on the implementation of critical activities under a general thematic area of enhancing ICT adoption in agriculture among smallholder farmers. The findings mostly informed the call for proposals of a study, which was conducted by the UCC in 2019 on “the state of ICT4Agric Innovations in Uganda”.
A report from the study noted that over 70% of the farmers are smallholder farmers based in rural areas, whose operations are greatly affected by climate change, weak digital skills, limited access to product knowledge along value chains, limited access to quality farm inputs, weak logistics systems, limited access to quality extension services, weak business intelligence and limited access to quality markets, among others.
The report findings were in line with some observations in the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) Strategic Plan and the Agriculture Extension Policy of 2016, among other studies.
The UCC study revealed that while Uganda has witnessed a rapid development of ICT for Agriculture Innovation, the uptake of these innovations was constrained by several factors, including limited awareness, low internet and smartphone penetration, especially in rural areas, lack of appropriate digital skills, inappropriate implementation models which are project and donor-driven, and limited articulation of value addition to various stakeholders, among others.
The study on the state of ICT4Agric Innovations in Uganda revealed the following outstanding challenges:
Agriculture content development and distribution to farmers remain uncoordinated. This has a negative impact on the quality of information farmers receive to make critical decisions., Existing content was mostly text-based, and in English, yet the majority of farmers preferred content in their local languages, which is multi-formatted.
It also revealed that Majority of farmers and other value chain actors lacked knowledge and skills to harness the power of ICTs. There was a need for a well-defined, integrated decision enhancement platform to support actors to make better decisions along with the agriculture value chain. While some ICT innovations do exist, awareness and accessibility of these innovations by farmers and actors who need them were very limited.
The report further noted the absence of automated produce and service auctioning platforms, which limits the quality of decisions farmers and other value chain actors make.
In addition, there is minimal or no application of Artificial Intelligence in the diagnosis of pests and diseases, a key challenge in farm management for both farmers and extension works. Pest and disease management remains a big issue in the sector as it largely depends on human tacit knowledge for the majority of the value chains.
The report observes that the emerging 4th Industrial Revolution powered by Artificial Intelligence, 5G and data science provides possibilities of addressing some of these challenges.
The overall objective of the project is to contribute to accelerated uptake of ICT4Agric Innovations by various actors, especially smallholder farmers in a number of value chains covering crops, animals and fisheries.
Expected outputs and outcomes
An integrated decision enhanced service platform for various actors, including farmers, policymakers, extension workers, logistics providers, academia and processors, among others, will be established.
The platform will provide a number of services, including farmer records management, production modelling and simulation (enterprise selection), market forecast and predication (demand forecast), extensive service delivery and monitoring, logistics mapping, pest and disease surveillance, input-output consumer brokerage services.
Over 10,000 farmers and other value chain actors will be trained (digital skilling) in 3 years directly, and 100,000 indirectly.
Uptake of ICT innovations and services for agriculture by various actors. This involves the development of Instructional Educational and Communication (IEC) materials, running of ICT awareness sessions using UNFFE structures, mass media, social outreach, using the developed platform, and through emerging platforms such as social media.