Timely information Access
“The USSD platform is a great, affordable tool for anticipating the weather for planting. As a smallholder farmer, I’d still like to know more about how to get the best out of it.”Mr Pelekelo, small-scale farmer in the Luwangwa area, who grows maize, tomatoes and other vegetables.
Pests, unpredictable weather and a lack of knowledge of markets hinder smallholder farmers in Zambia. Detailed research on these challenges conducted by AgriPredict has shaped the company’s platform, which is based on machine learning and predictive artificial intelligence. The platform’s purpose is to improve the value of farmers’ yields
The solution comprises a mobile app that can be downloaded on the Android platform or accessed via USSD. It confers the following benefits:
- Information on rainfall, humidity and temperature
- On-demand diagnoses based on uploaded pictures of diseased plants
- A forum for farmers to post their produce for sale and for buyers to request particular crops
EXPLORE THIS SOLUTION
- There are now 50,000 farmers across Zambia on the USSD platform, most of them aged 16-35.
- Concrete data on productivity, income and food security should be available in the next 18 months, but in general farmers have been very receptive. Many are seeking to acquire smartphones to make fullest use of the app.
World Vision International, SNV, MTN Zambia, Zambia Agricultural Research Institute, Zambia Meteorological Department
2019 to date
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AgriPredict is an agritech company whose aim is to provide timely and on-demand information that is accessible to all farmers. Its vision is to improve food security and impact lives. This solution would help fill a gap in the agriculture sector, particularly among small-scale farmers who have the greatest challenges in accessing information.
AgriPredict uses digital technology to help farmers in Zambia access timely agricultural information on demand. Especially in rural areas, farmers’ lack of information has long posed a threat to their yields, incomes and livelihoods. To fully understand their farming challenges, AgriPredict consulted with hundreds of lead farmers, using their responses to shape the platform.
AgriPredict found that, among other challenges, farmers sometimes had difficulty identifying pests or crop diseases and thus did not know how to address them. Farmers also had difficulty predicting weather patterns, which left them vulnerable to unusual weather events and unable to plant their crops at the optimal times. Finally, farmers were often forced to sell their produce to “brief-case” buyers who usually offered prices lower than input costs, leaving farmers with net losses. This makes farming unviable and hampers farmers’ ability to accumulate capital and invest in the following farming season.
By using machine learning and artificial intelligence, AgriPredict has developed a disaster-management tool that not only helps reduce the major farming risks of pests, diseases and adverse weather conditions, but also equips farmers with timely and vital agronomic agricultural information to help them improve their yields.
The AgriPredict tool is a mobile application that can be downloaded on the Android platform as well as accessed via Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), allowing any farmer with a feature phone to use the services by dialling a short code to one of the biggest telecommunication networks in Zambia.
With AgriPredict’s application, a farmer can simply take a picture of a diseased plant, and the system will diagnose the disease, list crop protection treatment options if required and provide the location of the nearest agrodealer where the treatments can be purchased. The farmer also receives information on weather patterns, including rainfall, humidity and temperature.
In addition, the platform provides a marketplace for farmers to sell their produce. Farmers can post the crops they have for sale, and buyers can request particular crops. The AgriPredict system then automatically matches buyers to sellers to enable transactions.
AgriPredict has had the opportunity to partner with various organizations in order to reach targeted farmers across Zambia, help get smartphones in their hands (a critical step to increase usage of the mobile application), develop robust IT systems and acquire a lot of farmer data.
AgriPredict currently has over 40,000 farmers from across Zambia on the USSD platform. The majority of users are between 16 and 35 years old, demonstrating that youth are the main drivers of the platform. The company anticipates having significant information on farmer productivity, incomes and area food security in the next 18 months.
Lessons Learned/Potential for replication
A key lesson learned is that it is important to fully understand farmers’ challenges in order to create a solution that is tailored to their needs. Hence farmers need to be involved in the development process from the very beginning. We learned that once farmers understood how the AgriPredict technology could make a difference in their everyday farming, they were very excited and receptive. Some purchased smartphones following the training sessions.
Conducting workshops to train the farmers within selected key farming areas is crucial to encouraging farmers to utilize the technology. Workshops have enabled one-on-one interactions with farmers and have provided opportunities for AgriPredict to continue receiving feedback on their service. This is important in ensuring the technology remains targeted and relevant to farmers.
AgriPredict plans to expand its reach within Zambia and the region. The company plans to develop additional services on their platform in response to farmers’ needs, including an early warning system, localized weather information and agri-services. To date, data analysis and feedback from small-scale farmers shows conclusively the need and demand for the AgriPredict service. Further, AgriPredict will continue to partner and collaborate with existing organizations in the space. It will measure progress by the number of farmers on the platform, how the farmers are using the platform, impact (productivity, income and access to additional services) and information generated.
Last update: 11/08/2021