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There is a need to digitize agronomic data – AGRF delegates told

AGRF 2020

Ghana Soil Research Institute is in the process of developing a mobile phone app that will enable smallholder farmers to access information about soil health for better crop production.

Speaking at a session that focuses on how to use data revolution to deliver better agronomy at scale for African smallholder farmers at the African Green Revolution in Africa Forum (AGRF) in Accra, Ghana, Dr Emmanuel Amaokwah, a soil scientist from the institute said that data science was the missing link for digitalization of agriculture in Ghana.

“We need soil fertility maps to enable smallholder farmers understand the nutrient status of their soils, and this calls for state of the art laboratories to provide accurate analysis,” he said.

Dr Bernard Vanlauwe, the Director R4D, Central Africa and Natural Resource Management at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) noted that there was evidence of growth in terms of fertilizer use to improve food production “but there is a need to accelerate and spread more equally,” he said. “Given the existing technologies, there is a need to increase maize yield by using 130Kg per hectare per year instead of the current 30 kilograms,” he said. 

Dr Emmanuael noted that the world population was on the rise, and therefore food productivity needed to improve amid the declining natural resources. “By 2050, the world population will be 9 billion. How do we feed them?” he paused.

The scientists noted that agronomic research and extension are often aspatial and give farmers blanket recommendations with limited impact on yields and incomes. To generate site-specific agronomic advice at scale, for example, what best fertilizer application or crop variety for a field, geospatial data and analytics can be used to map and predict crop yields and profitability at different scales. 

They further noted that research should work with various service providers to develop appropriate mobile applications and large-scale decision support tools that can provide timely, accurate advice on subjects such as crop varieties, fertilizer use and seed spacing. This will maximize the impact of on-farm extension and large-scale agronomic investments.

The session convened interested parties from across agronomic sectors to discuss a proposed excellence in agronomy platform and the following questions related to key public information goods (for example crop yield prediction maps or extension apps) that need to be generated to stimulate/improve public and private sector investment in seed, fertilizer and other markets. They also focused on the kinds of investments that should be used to reduce the informational bottlenecks, and who is best placed to deliver the public goods.

The session also focused on the kinds of investments needed to take agronomy to scale in Africa and the roles of governments, public research institutions, the private sector and national governments in closing the gaps.