The inputs from farmers, extension services, researchers and NGO staff led to the creation of 'Ushauri' (Swahili for advice). In an automated hotline, farmers use regular phone calls to select and listen to agricultural audio contents. In these messages of 3-5 minutes, an extension officer and an experienced farmer explain a specific agronomic topic. In addition, farmers can leave further questions in the hotline. This combines with an online platform: farmers’ questions are sent as voice messages to an online dashboard for registered extension officers to listen to and then send back answers via push-calls.
AEPS is about Data-driven agronomy, a set of complementary approaches that enhance traditional agronomy through the use of increased observational information, data mining, and contextualized information. These approaches allow research teams to explain historical events or predict relationships to provide partners, extension service providers, researchers, and farmers with new information and best practices about the relationships between different crop, environmental, and socioeconomic conditions. Simply put, these approaches allow researchers and agronomists to analyze different types of data from different sources to make tailored, site-specific recommendations to help farmers know what to plant, if they should plant, and when to plant.
Funding and implementation partners
Ushauri has received funding by UK Aid from the UK Government through the Sustainable Agricultural Intensification Research and Learning in Africa programme (SAIRLA).
Partners: Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute; Lutheran World Relief
AEPS: funded by USAID.
Partners: Asociación Hortofrutícola de Colombia [Horticulture Association of Colombia]; CGIAR’s Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security; Latin American Fund for Irrigated Rice; Colombian Agricultural Institute; National Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environment Studies; Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Colombia; rice growers’ association – Fedearroz.
'Ushauri' is key in reducing the workload of extension agents. Because many farmers ask similar questions, for example, about land preparation or seed selection, a well-recorded answer can be sent from the online platform to any number of farmers.
In Tanzania (Mtwara region), together with Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), Ushauri was tested with 97 groundnut farmers for a month. The service provided information about how to control dangerous aflatoxin, (caused by fungi attacking groundnut pods) which if consumed can severely affect human and animal health. During the pilot, farmers made an average of 14 calls per day. Interestingly, farmers’ preferred feature was leaving custom questions: 154 questions were made during the test period.
Despite being relatively young, data-driven agronomy has already led to notable impacts on farmers and partner organizations. As the discussion below reveals, the approach has drastically increased the number of farmers who have access to reliable, tailored information with which they can make decisions. It is modernizing and improving the extension services delivered by the government and growers’ associations and providing new ways for agricultural research centers to use data to close yield gaps and adapt to climate variability.
Data-driven agronomy has allowed the government and growers’ associations to make targeted recommendations to maximize their resources.
The biggest change for farmers has been increased access to better quality and relevant information. Farmers are no longer just passive recipients of information. They are actively engaged in discussions with scientists and technicians, which creates a sense of collective ownership over the decisions farmers ultimately make, potentially mitigating any negative consequences with future decisions.
In response to demand, new audio messages are recorded to add to the set of standard hotline messages, thus improving Ushauri after each season. Thus, over time, the service increasingly covers what farmers really want to know. That includes information about women's domains in farming - something rarely included in standard extension packages, which often focus on commercial and staple crops.
Alliance work within the Data Driven Agronomy Community of Practice continues their exploration of using modern big data techniques to “advance agricultural practices, in relation to particular socio-economic and environmental contexts in a way that promotes the democratization and transparency of agricultural information.”