Bringing More Data and More Sustainability to Smallholder Farmers

In many parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, smallholder farmers have a particularly hard time accessing information that would help their growing practices and help them supply markets with their goods. Yet, smallholder farmers produce nearly 80 percent of food for their communities and countries and need new technologies to help them learn, grow and market their food, while lowering the impact of production on the natural resource base.

Agricultural extension officer Sia Minja collecting data for farmer baseline studies using CIAT technologies. Lushuto, Tanzania. Credit: Georgina Smith / CIAT.

Bringing “Big Data” tools and more precision systems to these farmers requires new paradigms, partnerships and investments. It also requires broadband and wireless access for rural areas so new precision data services can reach farmers.

Solutions for broadband in sub-Saharan Africa are now focusing on using wireless radio links and leveraging so-called TV white spaces spectrum (TVWS, operating on UHF frequencies).  In Kenya, the Mawingu Project (“cloud” in Swahili) is now being tested and seeks to connect unserved rural communities with affordable, high-speed solar-powered broadband.

The government of Kenya has authorized Microsoft East Africa to use TVWS to deploy affordable high-speed broadband through solar-powered internet hot-spot kiosks in rural communities. Libraries, schools, farms and local government offices in rural areas access the internet; the project is serving as a model for other communications providers in countries such as Tanzania, rural areas of the U.S., and around the world.

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