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Five Innovations that will transform the lives of smallholder farmers

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This is the theme of an article by Ishmael Sunga, the C.E.O of Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) as part of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2017.In his article, he premises that from artificial intelligence, to precision agriculture, to the internet of things, emerging technologies have the potential to revolutionize the way food is consumed, handled and produced. But which technologies could most powerfully transform the lives of smallholder farmers?

The following five technologies have the potential to connect smallholder farmers to new resources, information, knowledge and markets. These are

1.Improved access to electricity to increase efficiency and reduce food loss. While acknowledging that electricity is not an innovation, the article notes that access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy enables smallholders to improve efficiencies in land preparation, planting, irrigation and harvesting. The adoption of other technologies by smallholder farmers hinges on their access to electricity.

2.Increased internet connectivity to access information and knowledge to improve productivity on their farms.Studies show that over 4 billion people remain unconnected to the web. The majority of small holder farmers live in remote areas with less connectivity and while women constitute almost half of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, they are less likely to access internet than man in the same communities.

3.Mobile devices and platforms connect smallholder farmers to markets. Mobile devices are providing access to information and services , for example, mobile banking can give smallholder farmers access to banking and loans.

4.Unique identifiers improve data about farmers, for farmers.With unique identifiers, businesses could offer tailored services, policy-makers could make more informed decisions, and knowledge institutions could make better assessments of farmers’ circumstances 

5.Geospatial analysis to help farmers make informed decisions.Geospatial technologies can help both policy-makers and individual farmers assess, monitor and plan the use of their natural resources. If smallholder farmers had access to foundational technologies – like electricity, the internet and mobile phones – then they too could use geospatial analysis to make decisions about the management of their farms and other assets. In this realm, FAO and Google are partnering to make geospatial tracking and mapping products more accessible.

This article was part of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting held on the 17th to 20th of January,  Davos-Klosters, Switzerland.