Smallholder agriculture is probably the oldest and largest industry in the world with about 2 billion people depending on the sector for their livelihoods. In Africa, this agriculture accounts for about 70% of the workforce.
By increasing productivity in smallholder agriculture, many countries would not have only increased food production but also reduced poverty.
AgServer, a peer to peer knowledge transfer and information sharing network/digital platform, has been created to help especially smallholder farmers. Farmers can now ask questions and get answers in real time among themselves, or from extension agents.
The platform affords them the avenue to connect with one another to solve problems, and share ideas as they are themselves experts with indigenous knowledge.
It requires no payment; and operates with or without internet connection via messaging (SMS/USSD/Voice) using simple handsets. The crowd-sourced information is aimed at helping these farmers increase yields, source quality inputs (i.e. seeds, fertilizer), tackle the effects of climate change, gain insight into pricing, access better markets, loans facilities, prevent diseases, access innovative technologies, and a lot more.
AgServer also enables farmers conveniently access inputs, goods, and services in a manner that improves their livelihoods.
In an interview with Love for Science, Emmanuel Chibuike, the founder of the AgServer platform said when he started as a smallholder catfish farmer, he noticed the many problems smallholder farmers face and decided to help change the narrative. “I founded a network to help smallholder farmers succeed. On Facebook (www.facebook.com/agrirocks) alone, we have grown to a community of 10,000 people from over a 100 countries. Here, they ask questions and get answers to their most pressing needs. However, I noticed that the answers weren’t always customised, timely and actionable. So I went back to the drawing board and developed the concept of AgServer”.
He said he then applied to Cornell University with the concept as the core of his proposed Master’s Capstone Project. The concept got accepted, however when the pandemic struck, he lost access to all possible sources of funding, and thus, unable to further his dream at Cornell.
Refusing to remain crestfallen, he subsequently assembled a team, developed a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and launched AgServer.
“I did most of the work alone by September/October 2020 but by December 2020, our full core team came on board. However we just finished our legal incorporation in May 2021”, he noted.
According to the team, their aspiration is to provide farmers, especially smallholder ones, with holistic information required to bolster production, be empowered, truly prosper, and have a respected unified voice.
They are also about bridging digital inclusivity and are to that end, layering often expensive advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, on simple feature mobile phones which farmers already have, so as to limit cost.
Asked what end-users should expect as add-ups or modifications in the future, the creators said they are just in the alpha testing phase with control users and so are co-creating the platform in real time with users.
They hinted also that they will curate opportunities (i.e. training, funding interventions etc) from other sources which will benefit the farmers. Information will be deployed to each farmer in a customized personalized manner to meet their individual needs.
They further added that they are still working on launching an SMS/USSD/Voice service to cater for farmers without access to the internet.
“In Africa, since about 70% of the workforce depends on smallholder agriculture, our solution could actually help lift more than half of the continent out of poverty, and reverse the horrible statistics that 1 in every 4 Sub-Saharan African is starving.
It could help the continent cut imports; as Africa imports about 85% of its food, with an annual food import bill of $35 billion – a sum that is forecast to reach $110 billion by 2025.
Also as most African countries are now showing a renewed interest in agriculture, our innovation will leapfrog these recent efforts, remove bottlenecks that have belaboured the sector for ages, and ensure sustained growth for local economies”, the team says.
They aspire to become one of the foremost digital agricultural extension services providers in Africa, aiming to at least, impact 10 million smallholder farmers on the continent.
AgServer is open to all smallholder farmers and anyone interested in the agrifood entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Agriculture students or researchers, food and beverage companies, input suppliers, NGOs, development agencies, and governments, will find the data generated on the platform very useful.
Access AgServer on www.agserver.net.
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