Mar 30 , 2019

Techno Brain and Green Agro Solutions Plc signed a partnership agreement to provide digital insights to more than 100,000 farmers in Arsi Zone who produce malting barley.

Two companies have partnered to provide digital insights to smallholder farmers in Arsi Zone using Internet of Things (IoT) technology, artificial intelligence and analytics in a bid to fill a missing gap in the agricultural sector.

Techno Brain and Green Agro Solutions Plc signed a partnership agreement to provide digital insights to more than 100,000 farmers in Arsi Zone who produce malting barley. The information includes weather forecasts, pest detection, advisory service and mechanisation equipment that will help farmers increase their productivity.

Farmers will receive information about the best crops to plant, optimal sowing weeks, pest infestation alerts, adverse weather notices, preferred harvesting times, market information and farming tips through mobile devices via text messages and voice platforms. The companies will also provide information to the development agents that assist the farmers via a mobile application.

"The platform will create insights that help farmers in Ethiopia make better farming decisions," said Abraham Endrias, managing director of Green Agro Solution.

To get the service, the farmers will pay 58 Br a hectare annually once they subscribe to the service by paying 117 Br.

As part of the partnership, Techno Brain offers its platform, Digital Agriculture, that collates data from farm locations using crop life cycles, seed details, land types, soil nutrition, global positioning system (GPS) coordinates, expected rainfall and weather patterns and processes the information using artificial intelligence. Techno Brain will also provide support and training.

For its part, Green Agro Solutions, which has been working in the Arsi region for over five years, will be responsible for creating digital farmer profiles, conducting farmer outreach, feeding data to the platform, advising farmers and communicating with government partners on the progress of the project.

Green Agro Solutions has a farm service centre in Sagure town of Arsi Zone that offers farm inputs, vetrinarian drugs, animal feed, mechanisation services, training and credit services.

A pilot project on the digital platform with over 5,000 smallholder farmers who grow barley and faba beans is underway, while the full project is expected to be launched at the end of May.

Out of the 5.4 million farmers in the Oromia Regional State, over 520,000 are in Arsi Zone cultivating 620,000ha of land mainly cropping wheat and malt barley.

Even though the country has 73 million hectares of arable land, the agricultural productivity at the national level remains low, accounting for 21.5ql a hectare for barley and 27.4ql a hectare for wheat.

The platform will help the farmers improve crop yields and quality, provide better access to market prices and increase income, according to Mekonnen Tesfaye, country director for Techno Brain Ethiopia, one of the 23 companies operating under Techno Brain.

“If we increase productivity by 25pc using such technologies, not only does the country feed its population, but also it saves hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign currency from the importation of grains," said Mekonnen.

Malting barley was chosen for the project as there is a huge demand by malt factories, according to Abraham.

Currently, Ethiopia imports 70pc of its malt to satisfy demand. Two international malt companies, Bootmalt and Soufflet, are in the pipeline to join the two operational malt processing plants in Assela and Gonder, which source barley locally.

Starting from next year, the project will expand to East and West Gojjam, Bale and East Shoa zones, according to Abraham.

A similar information systems project was started nine years ago by Nyala Insurance, which then launched a Weather Index Insurance Policy, according to Mohammed Adem, an agricultural economist and an assistant professor at Haremaya University.

"For the service, the insurance firm has collected and analysed two decades of productivity data," said Mohammed.

Since then, the system has been expanding. Now the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) operates a farmer information system that focuses on traceability, while the Ethiopian Agricultural Agency (ATA) has also designed a farming advisory services division.

Recently, the Ministry of Trade & Industry invested four million dollars in setting up the National Market Information System that will provide market price information on teff, wheat, sesame, haricot beans and corn to farmers, traders and consumers through text messages or interactive voice response (IVR) calls.

Mohammed views the new project positively in principle, especially because it has the perspective of the private sector in the service.

"It is a good move, as the government is also considering private sector participation in every sector," Mohammed said.

Hence, he recommends the project to be well organised, comprehensive and to be transparent in the contractual agreement between the farmers.

"Fulfilling all these, the project can empower the farmers," Mohammed said.

PUBLISHED ON Mar 30,2019 [ VOL 19 , NO 987]

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