Information Communication and Technology for Agriculture (ICTforAg) is an annual gathering where agricultural stakeholders and technology experts come together to share knowledge, find solutions, and form partnerships to address challenges in agri-food systems across low- and middle-income countries. HarvestPlus hosted a technology session “Catalyzing a more nutritious food system” aimed at sharing user’s experience on ICT for agriculture on November 7, 2023. 

“In order to accelerate the biofortification scaling efforts and to reach beneficiaries during COVID, the digitization strategy was developed and rapidly implemented. The program now has over 25 ICT projects in various stages of development, most recently with a partnership with Viamo to test the new artificial intelligence (AI) voice assistant with farmers in Kenya and India,” said Jenny Walton, Head of Commercialization and Scaling at HarvestPlus while opening the session. “Thanks to the CGIAR, HarvestPlus and country specific expert crop breeders, nutrient enriched versions of the world’s seven major staple crops are now available to eat,” she added.

Walton shared her vision for an ICT tool at every step of the value chain, highlighting the Happel Foundation funded project in Zimbabwe, where a partnership with eProd is now into its second year.

Almut Van Casteren from eProd shared that eProd solutions are used by HarvestPlus in Zimbabwe to bridge the gap between farmers and the millers while introducing biofortified seed varieties. “After the first season, the feedback by farmers and millers is amazing. Through the digitalization and technical support provided by the local team, the crop production exceeded expectations,” said Casteren. “The millers are interested in offering additional linkage and financial institutions willing to invest,” she added.

Ekanikpong Ben, the Chief Executive Officer of El-kanis & Partners is passionate about technology and nutrition. He acknowledged the value of nutrient-enriched crops for his own family and the farmers he works with. While sharing an example of success in Nigeria he said that sometimes the demand of nutrient-enriched varieties is outstripping supply in the market as the consumers are looking for nutritious and healthy foods. A Farmers Information and Enterprise Management System (FIEMS) has been developed by their company and the pilot work on the application has already been successfully completed with 400 users.

Oscar German from Oritain said that as a global leader in applying forensic and data science to verify the origin of products and raw materials, they have the ability to trace nutrients from seeds to processed foods. There is a potential to look at the source of the nutrients, and an even more exciting possibility to monitor broader food systems improvements.

Primrose Najjemba from Olam Food Ingredients Uganda shared that the Olam Farmer Information System (OFIS) is an app which allows field staff to collect data, map GPS points of farms and social infrastructure, manage training activities, and track all ‘first mile’ transactions, including financing, input distribution, and crop purchases. “Over 5,50,000 farmers in more than 30 countries have been registered in their system, and we continue to rollout our OFIS,” said Najjemba. “However, some 2.7 million smallholder farmers from whom we buy crop directly and indirectly, work in isolation from online connectivity and digital tools,” she added.

The speakers recognized the importance of breaking out of silos and bringing cross functional teams together, from different countries, crops, and academic disciplines. HarvestPlus as a part of IFPRI and CGIAR, can help solving the technological problems of the food system by supporting such digital initiatives. Through the recent launch of the new spin-off organization, HarvestPlus Solutions, delivery of biofortified seeds, grains, and foods will be more commercially oriented with services and support for the sustainable, commercial scaling of nutrient-enriched products.

With over 2000 participants from all over the world, the event was spread over time zones to ensure everyone had a chance to participate, listen and learn. ICTforAg 2023 was jointly hosted by USAID as part of Feed the Future, CGIAR, and DAI. The recording is available here.