Precision Agriculture for Development & Rare

Finalist 2020 Based in the United States

Bringing innovative, science- and behavior-based digital agricultural extension services to smallholder farmers, with a huge potential to improve their yields, in the short- and long-term.

The Challenge: Smallholder farms far from their potential

More than 80% of the world’s farms operate on less than two hectares of land.  A dominant part of the world’s food originates from such smallholder farms. Yet, according to FAO, the “yield gaps” of these farms – actual versus potential yield, given access to water and other site-specific conditions – amount to 50-70%. These gaps indicate an enormous potential, and closing them is the main way to approach food security in many rural regions.

One critical tool to improve farmers’ yields is access to timely, relevant agricultural information such as weather data. Many must also navigate deeply entrenched cultural and social norms associated with farming to reach performance in line with their farms’ potentials. Lack of up-to-date information and applicable context-specific knowledge are significant barriers to adopting best practices and improving food security. To maintain gains long-term, improvements must also enhance ecosystems, including healthy soil and clean water, as well as pollination and natural pest control.

Agriculture is and will remain the most important sector in many evolving economies; its performance is vital to supporting progress and the very fabric of society. Yet, extension services – assisting farmers in various ways to improve their results – are surprisingly weak in many regions. Even the capacity to improve extension services is often lacking, despite their fundamental role in advancing sustainability and production efficiency.

In Colombia, only 16% of farmers receive assistance, and typically the focus is mainly on intensification, resulting in short-term yield gains at the expense of the long-term benefits of resilient agriculture and healthy ecosystems, a common issue in many countries.

Today, digital infrastructures have an almost global reach, facilitating the evolution of new extension services that can also be extended to remote smallholder farms.

 

 

Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD) and Rare, two non-profit organizations, combine their proven solutions to launch and scale innovative, digital agricultural extension services to smallholder farmers in South Asia and Africa.

PAD is based in Boston and was founded in 2016. Its co-founders and board members are 2019 Economics Nobel Prize Laureate Michael Kremer, Shawn Cole, Dan Björkegren, Amrita Ahuja, and Heiner Baumann. PAD is led by CEO Owen Barder, who brings to the organization more than three decades of experience as a development practitioner, scholar and advocate. PAD is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Unorthodox Philanthropy, Agriculture Technology Adoption Initiative, Mulago, and others. It has also partnered with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and has various other partners ranging from NGOs to governments. PAD currently serves over 3.5 million smallholder farmers in eight countries.

Rare, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, is the leading behavior change organization in conservation. Since 1973 it  has implemented more than 450 projects across 60 countries, that address some of the most salient sustainable development challenges.  Together with its Center for Behavior & the Environment, thousands of local communities, and a growing network of partners and supporters, Rare seeks to meet the growing demand for community behavior change at scale.

 

“In an initial pilot study, sending text messages with agricultural advice to smallholder farmers, yields increased by 11.5% relative to the control group”

The Initiative: Putting the destiny of farmers in their own hands

Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD) and Rare are two global non-profits, combining their solutions to launch innovative agricultural extension services in Colombia.

PAD works to build, scale, and improve mobile-phone based agricultural extensions for smallholder farmers, giving them access to the best available, region-specific information to enhance their productivity.

Digital infrastructures facilitate reaching remote farms in Ethiopia and other evolving economies.

PAD has sent mobile advice to 3.6 million farmers in eight countries, with evidence of up to 28 % yield gains and reduced input over-use of fertilizers and pesticides. The marginal cost of digital extension is low, with estimates suggesting a benefit/cost ratio of 6:1 to 10:1 – very favorable compared to other interventions. PAD currently works with partners in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Pakistan, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. They reach the most farmers in Pakistan, followed by Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Zambia, Rwanda, Bangladesh, and Uganda.

What makes this nominated data-driven initiative unique is that its proven impact is now being paired with the expertise of Rare, an organization that works on behavioral change to drive development that is beneficial to both people and the planet. Data for improved decision making will only be useful if people know how to use it.     

Rare is a recognized leader in using behavioral science to deliver sustainable development outcomes. Its “Lands for Life” program is widely considered one of the primary advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals. Rare brings decades of experience from over 450 behavioral-change campaigns, replacing degrading resource management practices with sustainable alternatives.

The two organizations’ blended model will merge cost-effective mobile services and behavioral strategies to enhance agricultural and ecosystem productivity and resilience for 20,000 smallholder farmers. The program combines Rare’s behavior-change approach for climate-smart agriculture, PAD’s expertise on yield-enhancing digital extension, and technical content from government agencies and research institutions. This model scales quickly and can reach remote areas.