ICT & Agriculture

SBC4D has a significant experience and expertise in the application of mobile and Web technologies in Agriculture. Since the launch in 2009 of the Web Alliance for Regreening in Africa (W4RA), in which our CEO participated as part of his assignment with the Web Foundation, we have been investigating the domain and working with different communities in different countries from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, to Kenya, Comoros, Lesotho, Swaziland, Fiji, Carribean region, Liberia or India. See a quick presentation of the company done during the first ICT4ag conference (2013).

Our aim since the origin of this work has been to investigate how to empower farmers directly without intermediaries through the use of innovative voice technologies, and through a holistic approach involving other information channels such as community radios.

Most of the research and earlier developments were done as part of W4RA, the EU-funded VOICES project, and the VBAT project led by SBC4D CEO on behalf of the Web Foundation. Through these projects, we pioneered the design and development of few open-source software packages that are at the hearth of our current agriculture portfolio. See for instance a video summarizing the tools in Mali developed in cooperation with the NGO Sahel Eco.

On top of these different modules, we developed a specific business matching platform. This platform is a mobile, radio and Web platform that enables farmers in the developing world to directly use ICTs to access new market opportunities at the local, national, regional and global level, independently of their literacy level, their language or the type of their phone. See a nice animation movie made by ITC on the instance in Kenya.

The core of the platform is a CRM module to manage farmers, and business matching modules to manage selling and buying of commodities. Each module has an operator interface (web interface) and a customer interface. The customer interface implements different channels: Web, mobile app, voice,SMS and USSD interface. Apart from these core modules, the platform has different extension modules to tackle different contexts and needs:

  • A Q&A/Extension service Module: This module allows the management of support to farmers. Farmers can ask questions through different interfaces (web/SMS/IVR) and get answers. The answers are then stored and serve as a growing knowledge base, as well as a tool to detect specific trends, like the appearance of specific diseases. This module is deployed in Fiji
  • A Radio module: This module allows the integration of community radio on the platform. Lots of rural community radio stations today do not have internet connectivity or computers. This module allows the generation and transfer of radio broadcast containing specific farmer offer automatically to community radios that have only basic phones. These radio stations can then broadcast this information live, without the need to transfer a physical media (cd, mp3, tape) to the station. This module is deployed in Mali.
  • A mobile payment module: To ensure sustainability, it is essential to enable payments of services. This module allows the management of mobile payments such as MPesa. this module is deployed in Kenya.
  • A market information module: This module allows the collection of market price information (using smartphone) and their dissemination to farmers. This module is deployed in Fiji.
  • A Poll module: This module allows the organisations of polls to query members of the CRM on specific questions. This module is deployed in Fiji using SMS.
  • An Alert module: This module allows the broadcast of messages to members of the CRM. This module is deployed in Fiji using SMS and in Mali using voices (Tabale).
  • A mapping module: This module allows the capture of gps coordinates (or the geocoding of address information) and the use of GIS system (google map, Open street map) to implement map-based application.

Deployment and Customization

It is important to note that SBC4D agriculture platform is not a ready-to-use platform, but is more a toolbox that needs to be customized for specific objectives and needs, depending on the context and profiles of the different stakeholders. Our customers are not farmers directly, but organizations (NGOs, farmer organizations, cooperatives) that are working closely with farmers and are willing to provide mobile ICT services to ease interactions and support of these farmers. Our deployment strategy includes working with the organizations that have the ownership of the platform locally to integrate specific modules, and adapt to the specific commodities, or services the organization is providing to its different customers (farmers, buyers, etc.). The customization of the toolbox also includes the definition and implementation of a specific business model and relevant hosting solutions depending on the local context and the IT expertise of the customer.

Specific tailored versions of the platforms are currently deployed by the International Trade Center (ITC) in Kenya, in cooperation with Kenya Agricultural Commodities Exchange (KACE) , in Fiji with Fiji Crop and Livestock Council (farmer database and communication), in Fiji with the Ministry of Agriculture (Market Information System), and in Liberia with Trade@Hand Liberia.

The instance in Mali was selected by the French Ministry of Foreign Affair as one of the 21 best innovation in Africa in 2013. See the video in french.

Since 2015, we have been involved in a number of projects such as TICmbay, a 4 years project from March 2015 till March 2019, in Senegal and funded by USAID as part of The New Alliance ICT Extension Challenge fund. SBC4D is co-leader of the project with United Purpose and Practical Action, and we were in charge of the ICT implementation. Other projects include the development and deployment a Market Prices Information platform for the Ministry of Agriculture of the Royal Government of Bhutan, Tekki Jiggen, a USAID funded project launched in 2020 for 2 years to explore how data analytics can help addressing the access to credit challenge for women entrepreneurs in Agriculture in Senegal, or the design of the National Farmer Digital Profiling Platform for the Ministry of Agriculture in Rwanda (2018-2019). Except those major projects, SBC4D also implements lower scale projects in the form of specific services (e.g. a USSD/SMS/Voice registration platform for a germination insurance company working accross Africa – Pula or a platform for vanilla, ylang-ylang and clove producers management for the Government of Comoros).

SBC4D core expertise also cover strategy, research and training. On research, we have been working for various organizations such as CTA, IFAD (PARM), ITC or Orange to conduct field research, feasibility and assessment on the different aspect of ICT in Agriculture. On training, we have delivered various courses for e.g. FAO on the role of data in agriculture and how farmer organisations can collect, manage and use to build and deliver new services for farmers. On strategy, we have been working for various governments (e.g. Ethiopia through a UNDP assignment, FIJI through an ITC assignment) to define their global ICT for Agriculture strategy or specific services like Market Information System. See our publication lists for details

Open Data & Agriculture

SBC4D is also interested in the application of Open Data in agriculture. Through W4RA, SBC4D has been part of the pioneers engaged in the Global Open Data on Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN). We have also been working closely with VU University on this topic (see the SBC4D publications as well SBC4D CEO Publications at the end of his resume). Slightly related to the topic, SBC4D has developed the open linked data portal for the International Land Coalition.