How does one support smallholder communities by providing agricultural information based on open source satellite data? That is a question being answered by a group of Ethiopian and Dutch development organisations and businesses. With the initial assessment phase completed, the CommonSense programme is now moving to full implementation and the opportunity to improve the lot of thousands of families in Ethiopia.
Andre Jellema, programme coordinator says, “We’re moving into the pilot stage and at the brink of using systems in real life, to the benefit of farmer communities and others involved in the agricultural value chain.” The ambition is to improve the livelihood of more than 200,000 smallholders. The focus of the work is to develop information services that extract data from satellites. This can be added to other geo-data sources so that eventually the whole agro-business value chain needed to deliver crops to market benefits.
In doing so it is expected to improve food security and increase income in the agricultural sector in the Tigray, Amhara and Oromia regions of Ethiopia. The premise for the project, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and supported by the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resource Management, is to introduce different value chain players to the data, in a timely and accurate manner. This can help it function more effectively, allowing smallholder farmers increase their production and secure their income.
“What we encountered already is that the Ethiopian Government is very interested in what has been started. But it should not be taken for granted that the use of open data can be successfully used in all aspects of agricultural development. The process is inclusive and consultation with all stakeholders is important to make sure it is sustainable,” says Jellema.
CommonSense takes a user centred design approach, putting individual needs central to the design process. Key is the organisation of stakeholder meetings contributing to the understanding of the needs and requirements of smallholders and the kind of services they require. The logic behind the programme is to optimise the quality and accessibility of information services reporting on agro-ecological conditions, agricultural production and production risks. Much of that information is derived from open source data. If these matters can be presented clearly and relevantly then everyone involved in food production can reap the benefit by doing things more efficiently and with greater coordination.
Jellema states, “This is an important moment. Farmer organisations have raised their appetite for using open data which can help build a good business model. But we need to see if these organisations can embrace the need for this technology.”
Some of the key technical areas in which open data can benefit Ethiopia’s agricultural sector includes access to localized weather data, be it archived, current, or based on predictions. Growing season monitoring data can help determine dates for planting, planning on improving yields and preparing optimum harvest dates. In managing the growing cycles, CommonSense will introduce analytical tools to assess the probability about when a certain event occurs in a predefined time window, based on historical archives on weather, vegetation indices and other indicators related to specific problems inherent to each targeted crop.
Based on these type of details two communication systems will be built, both benefiting from open data. For agricultural unions, they will be supported by a member management system that collects farmers’ data and assesses their performance, based on data from the field and yield forecasting made possible by open satellite data. The system can also help the unions plan activities, such as, helping them to sell produce for the best price, while managing their finances, logistics, storage and trade efficiently.
In relation to microfinance the communication system will help make loan assessments, important for those wanting to invest in their farms. The system can collect information on individual smallholders, assessing the profitability of their activities and evaluating the risk of crop failure, based on the agro ecological conditions in the area.
The programme consortium is led by Alterra WUR. The expert partners from the Netherlands include Airbus DS Netherlands BV, Weather Impact BV, ICCO Terrafina. The Ethiopian partners are Apposit LLC, Exo- Talent, Bussaa Gonofaa. SFPI and Harbu.