Blog Agroecological TRANSITIONS: Inclusive digital tools to scale smallholder agroecology
Agroecological food systems, guided by nature, can provide ecosystem services and promote equitable, climate-conscious decision-making. In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), farmers need easy access to resources and support to transition to climate-resilient production systems.
The EU-IFAD Agroecological Transitions for Building Resilient, Inclusive, Agricultural and Food Systems (TRANSITIONS) program aims to enable this transition through the development and adoption of holistic metrics for food and agricultural system performance (METRICS), inclusive digital tools (ATDT), and transparent private sector engagement (PSii).
The TRANSITIONS ATDT project promotes inclusive digital resources and citizen science to empower farmers to co-create, adapt, and innovate practices. After a year of interviews, baselines, and reviews, he project presents a glimpse of the global and local digital ecosystems for agroecological transitions in the beef cattle supply chain in Brazil and the rice value chain in Vietnam and how they relate to social inclusion and climate change.
The ATDT team produced a guide, reports, and several briefs synthesizing their examination of the digital ecosystem globally and locally in Brazil and Vietnam. Below is an overview of these products and key findings.
CRITIQUES OF DIGITAL TOOLS IN AGRICULTURE
The ATDT team sought out concerns about the existing digitization of food systems and how to address the major critiques.
Key takeaways from a review of civil society critiques of agricultural digitization:
- Two themes emerged: Unequal power relations and a disconnect from farmers’ needs and input.
- Ethical principles for agriculture should be specific to the sector, agroecology offers an existing framework.
- Technical advice that is relevant to smallholders can facilitate a shift towards agroecology through knowledge exchange.
- Recommendations include:
Govern for an inclusive digital ecosystem & economy
Leverage and expand food, data & social justice movements
Code ethics into digital development
CRITICAL DIGITAL SOCIAL INCLUSION
Farmer-facing digital resources and development should support farmers’ agency, not just their participation. Developing national and international policies for digital and social inclusion is necessary to increase the participation of diverse smallholders in digital tools.
Key takeaways from the ATDT brief on Socially inclusive digital tools for agriculture:
- Socially inclusive digital tools improve access to digital services for diverse smallholder farmers, and it is necessary to improve functions and features that enhance social inclusion.
- Two-way communication, multiple communication channels, co-creation of practices, and developing a user-centered design approach enhance inclusive technical advisory services.
- Farmers should retain ownership of personal and assessment data, and it should be stored privately and securely and not used for profit without informed consent.
- Mobile learning applications, gamification, SMS alerts, and chatbot features improve learning and adoption of agricultural insurance.
- Aggregation of smallholder products and e-commerce platforms promote fair engagement in formal markets.
- Principles for inclusion should guide digital tool design and use.
WHAT’S OUT THERE? REVIEWING THE DIGITAL ECOSYSTEM
The ATDT team conducted expert interviews and a global review of digital resources relevant to climate change and agroecology to identify exemplary features of digital tools. Overall, they found few digital tools with functions for agricultural technical advice and performance assessment related to agroecology, and found limited climate change adaptation and mitigation information. See below for additional findings.
- Technical advice exemplary features included context-specific technical options, use of videos, and integrated hotlines for questions or coaching.
- Performance assessment exemplary features included indicators collaboratively defined with farmers, simple research spreadsheet templates, and easy reporting for farmers.
- Technical advice provided functions related to climate change adaptation more often than mitigation. Yet most tools only addressed a few climate change adaptation indicators (see the review for indicators).
- Performance assessment tools were almost exclusively greenhouse gas emission calculators.
- Increasing farmers’ access to tools can scale climate-informed digital tools, but supporting action recommendations in tools and identifying priority actions is critical to large-scale impacts.
- Accessible and inclusive communication features help farmers understand trade-offs and how to achieve and sustain change. Examples: Two-way farmer communication, targeted farmer subgroups, farmer-driven content and input, human intermediaries, iconography and video or audio messaging, and coaching functions
- Digital tools have limited comprehensive support for agroecology but many have agroecological components.
PRINCIPLES FOR BEST PRACTICE OF CO-DESIGN WITH FARMERS
ATDT’s new guide offers principles for socially inclusive digital tool development for smallholder farmers in LMICs. These principles can be used by anyone working with digital tools, agriculture, and smallholder farmers.
These principles result from a review of existing frameworks, the global review of digital tools, and expert interviews. The guide highlights farmer co-creation of practices as a socially inclusive way to develop robust technical solutions for climate-informed agroecological transitions.
WORKING WITH FARMERS, FOR FARMERS
Digital tools are transforming agricultural production, but smallholders are historically left behind or exploited. To make digital tools more inclusive for smallholders, their needs must be heard, and their co-creation of practices and tools supported.
To ensure that digital tools are inclusive, it is crucial that the content, features, and functions are relevant to the needs and circumstances of the users. For digital tools to achieve their maximum potential of benefiting millions of smallholder farmers, it is vital to prioritize the farmers and their involvement in the development and use of digital tools.
Sadie SheltonCommunications Officer and Research Assistant
Acknowledgement: The Agroecological Transitions for Building Resilient, Inclusive, Agricultural and Food Systems (TRANSITIONS) Program is funded by the European Union through its DeSIRA initiative and managed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The TRANSITIONS Inclusive Digital Tools (ATDT) project aims to support the use of digital resources and citizen science to empower farmers to co-create, adapt, and innovate practices for climate-resilient and low-emission agroecological outcomes at large scales. Find a list of ATDT outputs here. The contents and opinions expressed in this publication are not peer reviewed and are the sole responsibility of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union, IFAD or affiliated organizations.