Digging Deeper in Agriculture

Episode 4 August 30, 2022 00:32:39
Digging Deeper in Agriculture
Data... for What?!
Digging Deeper in Agriculture
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Hosted By

Joshua Powell Vanessa Goas

Show Notes

In this episode Josh talks to Charlene Migwe-Kagume about how we are approaching agriculture work in our new strategy. Agriculture is a space where DG has worked for a number of years, but how are we building on past experiences and our strengths to take this work forward? Josh and Charlene discuss digging deeper in agriculture and how innovation plays a role.

 

Programs Discussed

Highlighting our Partners

Special thanks to Mark Hatcher for our theme music. You can find Mark on social media at @markdhatcher. 

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Episode Transcript

Josh Powell Hi, I'm Josh Powell. I'm the CEO of Development Gateway: an IREX Venture (DG). I’ve been with DG for about 12 years and I’m based in Washington, DC. Vanessa Goas And I'm Vanessa Goas COO of DG. I've been with DG for about 15 years and I'm based in Miami, Florida. This is Data… for What?! the new Development Gateway: podcast. We have several seasons on different topics in production, but in our first season we're going to talk about our new strategic plan, how it fits with our past work, the thought process behind it, and where we hope to go in the next few years. Josh Powell In this episode, we talk to Charlene Migwe-Kagume about digging deeper in the agriculture sector. Charlene is based in Nairobi and we wanted to talk to Charlene because she's helped to build a lot of the partnerships and a lot of the programming that we're doing in the agriculture sector. She's working very closely, for example, on the VIFAA program, together with our partners, the AfricaFertilizer.Org, to reshape the way that the fertilizer data space works across the African continent and Charlene has also presented and participated in various events around agriculture data and engaged at a policy level with a number of different partners. And so she has a really great nuanced understanding of the work that we do in agriculture and the needs in the sector across different subsector areas. Vanessa Goas We've been working in agriculture for a little while now, Josh Maybe about five or six years. What kind of rocks have we left unturned? Josh Powell A lot [laughs] Vanessa Goas ..like all of them really [laughs] that’s what is so exciting. Josh Powell [laughs] I think it's a huge and really complex sector. I mean, for many of the countries that we work, it's the number one source of employment and livelihood throughout the country. We're seeing a lot of really complex dynamics. We're seeing global supply chains and the influence that they can have on food security. And we're seeing the impact of urbanization. We're seeing also, a really rapid growth in digital agriculture with a lot of opportunities, a lot of benefits and some concerns and consideration. So in this episode, we talked a lot about data governance and we talked a lot about new innovations that are happening. I think one of the other exciting things that we talked about in this episode is the amount of trust between partners, constituents, between private sector and government. You know that we've been able to build in our programming and the amount of learning across the different silos in the agriculture space, whether it's inputs, whether it's advisory, whether it's digital agriculture writ large or whether it's specific value chains like cashews. So I think there is a lot there in this complex sector. It's the largest portfolio of our work at Development Gateway. And I think what's going to be really exciting over the next few years of this strategy is how can we start to bring some of these siloed conversations together so that there's a more holistic understanding of what a country's agriculture landscape looks like in practice, as opposed to these different kind of pockets of data and information that may not speak to each other. Vanessa Goas And you sort of hinted that our portfolio in agriculture has grown quite a bit and I think pretty rapidly… since the last strategy was the first time that we explicitly mentioned agriculture as a sector. We wanted to focus on how has what we've learned from our experience in the agriculture sector informed what we put in the strategy today? Josh Powell Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think not just in the strategy for agriculture, but also in terms of our thinking of how we enter a new sector like education. I mentioned that an emphasis on partnerships is really key. You know, there are amazing organizations in the agriculture space who have thought very deeply and very narrowly about fertilizer for 20, 30, 40 years, who thought very narrowly or very specifically on extension services and digitization of extension services. And we don't have to be the experts in any of those areas. We just have to identify who are the right partnerships, what are the right needs for us to address. And then how can we play a supporting role in bringing more and better data, evidence, and information into the hands of people who need it to drive better decisions, whether that's an agricultural minister making policy determinations or whether that's smallholder farmers who are trying to decide what mix of inputs should they use on their part to be able to maximize their income, to be able to ensure their food security. So there's a lot more to be done, but there's a lot that we've learned so far. Vanessa Goas Now over to the conversation with Josh and Charlene. Josh Powell Charlene, do you want to take a moment to introduce yourself? Charlene Migwe-Kagume My name is Migwe-Kagume. I have been with DG for 3 or 4 years now. I am a senior consultant based in our Nairobi hub and I support some of the open contracting work and agriculture work within the organization and I support some of the relationship building in the region. Josh Powell Thanks, Charlene. Over the past few years, in this most recent strategy cycle, agriculture has been really the fastest growing part of our portfolio. Why do you think that is? What do you think it is about the work that we do and the approaches that we use that's really resonated with the sector. Charlene Migwe-Kagume When I think about agriculture, we realize that it's a very – particularly agriculture data – are very siloed. So we have governments that hold particular data such as subsidy and inputs used. We have private sector that hold data such as trade data, and development sector that hold data such as input use and qualitative data that adds value to the story. DG’s approach is working with partners well. We're able to broker agreements for data sharing, able to build capacity for the collection of these datasets to improve the methodologies and of course, aggregate this data sets to really tell the story that can lead to policy change and better decisions. So I think it's more of our inclusive approach that allows us to really deal with this siloed nature of agricultural data. But I think also thinking about how complex agriculture is – and something that comes up a lot – is yield and I’ve had many discussions this week and a lot goes into improving yield. We contribute to yield. Yield is a big discussion point. It is important when it comes to improving food security. You want to prove yield so we have more food for people to consume, but it's pretty complex. You need the right inputs, you need rainfall, you need issues of climate change, come to play and DG’s approach, which is a common approach where we're able to really think about the end user and bringing all the stakeholders together to really think about how they could. How can they collectively make decisions and policy shifts. Using data really helps in addressing such a complex issue, such as agricultural yields increase. Josh Powell Thanks. I couldn't agree more. I think that the inclusive approach in bringing stakeholders together and also really a focus on data interoperability and system interoperability has been something that's made us really successful. When you think about the work we've done to date in agriculture, what are some of the things that you're most proud of? Charlene Migwe-Kagume Hmm. Interesting one. So one I think we've been able to push from just generating data from a program perspective. Of course, at DG, where I enjoy where our work is funded by particular partners, we were able to shift and have the users see the value of the data and pay for this data to be generated. And you've seen that work in Nigeria where through our fertilizer program we are funded by Bill and Melinda Gates and working with our partner AfricaFertilizer.org and others collecting fertilizer, detailed price use, availability and policy tracking policy. We've been able to see a really strong interest from private sector there to have more up to date data. And they've agreed to find some of the work that we're doing with our partners in terms of work such as cost build up, which is a key price indicator where that shows that at least the stakeholders see the value and are willing to support it even financially to be able to improve their work. We've also seen really interesting data validation approaches with our partners AfricaFertilizer.org, where they have fertilizer technical working groups (FTWG) and they bring different stakeholders together to validate data. I think it's really exciting to see where you could see government, private sector, ministries, the revenue authorities who know that they need this data to be able to validate that. The other day in Kenya with the FTWG we saw a whole vessel volume missing from the revenue data and the private sector actually had it in their records. So yeah, it's a beneficial across all stakeholders to be able to see the value in coming together and validating and coming up with that with a statistic that can actually be used by all. Josh Powell And what types of decisions do you see really being informed by those data? Charlene Migwe-Kagume One we're seeing because fertilizer is a really key repository that can be used as a political tool. But we've seen that the importance and the impact fertilizer can really make in terms of agriculture output and yield. So, one, we've seen governments really rely on data to inform the subsidy programs. And this is from a fertilizer perspective, particularly because subsidy has had its challenges in the past across the continent. Having data allows them, I mean, to inform governments to be able to know what products to prioritize, what volumes, what in Kenya, if you think about a Kenya has devolved. So we have counties that are greatly struggling in terms of productivity, of key crops that drive Kenya's economy. Or Kenya's productivity, what crops to invest in and that is that is informed by fertilizer use and understanding, for example, if I choose a county, Nairobi or Nakuru, where a particular crop is grown, understanding what type of fertilizer they're using, how much they're using, and knowing that there's a gap here in fertilizer use, government should pilot their subsidy program there. And now Kenya moved into the e-voucher. So some of the dashboards and data that we have on fertilizer use availability has really informed the government on how to provide some of these initiatives. Josh Powell And right now, Charlene, we're seeing huge disruptions in global supply chains, in food and in inputs, particularly in fertilizer. Could you talk a little bit about how we're working with partners to use data to try to help combat that crisis? Charlene Migwe-Kagume We've seen a really big dip in availability. If you go to some of our dashboards, you'd see some of the inputs over time have really reduced in the different countries. And that's, of course, because of the one COVID and then the Russian invasion of Ukraine continued to really deepen that trend because [that region] is a key source of raw materials for fertilizer. So we've seen our data and dashboards being used by users such as the AfDB and global players who are trying to bring private sector together to be able to address this gap and redirect some of the fertilizer supply that they have, particularly in West Africa. Right now, it's been a key issue. So I think that shows the beauty of some of the work that we are doing in bringing key players both at a regional level, convening private sector, and development sector to be able to address skills shortage problems by negotiating with the private sector to be able to redirect some of these shortages. Josh, also, in your opinion, what are you proud of about in the agricultural space? Josh Powell I think in addition to just how much the work has grown, I think we've seen really strong collaboration across government and private sector. I think that's been unique in our work. I think you started by describing the agricultural data landscape as really fragmented, and I think that's been the case for a long time, largely because each of those groups: private sector, government, civil society, development actors didn't necessarily see the value of sharing data and bringing it together. And so everyone really kind of saw data as their own kind of asset and something that they wanted to guard and protect. And I think as I've seen our program teams be able to broker data sharing agreements and to be able to bring collaboration into the space. I think we're seeing more and more that these different actors are kind of seeing gains from trade in terms of sharing data and bringing it together. And I think starting to break down some of those data silos that you mentioned and to create a much more harmonized and holistic view of what's happening from input and investment all the way through to yield and then even through to market, I think that is really crucial. And I think there’s still a lot of work to be done. And I think we're just now starting to see more and more contribution of those combinations of data in decision making processes. But it is happening, and I think over this upcoming strategy cycle, I expect to see DG moving from an impact on the data supply and the data sharing really into data use and driving policy making. And I think, as you said, in the current challenges that we're seeing global supply chains, that everyone is looking for data, everyone needs that information to be able to make better decisions. And I think the investments that we've made and that our partners have made in bringing more and better data together has really positioned us to be able to support that in a way that three or four years ago, I don't think it would have been possible for AfDB or for other global players to be able to quickly access information on availability, on price, on the types of fertilizers that are available at the market. And so the fact that we've been able to really kind of build up that supply of information together with AfricaFertilizer.org and other partners is something that I'm really proud about and something that I think we'll see really pay dividends more and more in the years to come. Charlene Migwe-Kagume Yeah, I agree. I think something just to add to that, I think something that's come up in recent discussions this past two weeks is how could we – because a data set is already rests in our dashboards – but how can we really institutionalize the use of this data sets within government, within other bodies such as the FAO and the African Union, who are really tracking key metrics that really guide regional policy and regional approaches. So I think as a next step, it's thinking more of pushing that data use work because we've spent over 3-4 years working on the quality of the data strengthening, strengthening data approaches, having innovation funds where we supported cropland mapping (that's been a key gap across all countries.) And understanding cropland, the cropland value for each country. And with these key data sets, how can they really push regional integration, regional decision making and being in the room that really pushes agenda across the regions? Josh Powell Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the things that's been really interesting is, as you mentioned, the agricultural landscape is really complex. It's complex and siloed both in terms of types of inputs, seed, fertilizer, advisory and extension services, and so forth. But also in terms of value chains, in terms of types of crops. And I think one of the things that's been really interesting and exciting for me is to see how our approach has resonated, not just with fertilizer data, but also with cashew value chain data in West Africa together with our partners and CNFA and also looking at seed system data and data for policy making in the seed sector together with the African Seed Access Index. And the more and more that we're doing this work across different partners and across different segments of the agricultural sector, the more it's clear that this approach is is really working. And when I say this approach, I mean bringing various stakeholders together, really taking an emphasis on data interoperability, and driving data directly to decision makers and understanding what types of decisions are being taken and what role can data play in that. And I think we're seeing that more and more. Charlene Migwe-Kagume Yeah, I agree. And if you look at some of the regional players and even governments, they really have focal points who are really tasked with some of these detailed tasks. So FAO they already has a focal point in each country in Africa, AU already has a focal point in each country in Africa. We had the other day that if you ask a particular person to join a ministry, they may give you different data sets. So why aren't we harmonizing and really mapping out the key decision making processes and the key data access? How do they actually access the data and how do they move up into the decision making processes at a country level, on a regional level, I think is a really great way we could push our programming in agriculture. And I like the idea of aggregating different types of inputs. As we said, we can't attribute food particularly to one key intervention such as fertilizer, etc. It has to be holistic. So I think the agriculture space is an exciting place for me because it really shows a lot of opportunity for growth in terms of data use. Because the data is there, its just really putting it in the right rooms, in the right places and channeling it into the right decision making processes. Josh Powell I completely agree. And thinking beyond just pure data. There's been a wave of innovation in the digital agricultural space in the last few years. And we're working, for example, with the IFAD in providing advisory inputs into understanding how they can more effectively incorporate digital approaches into their programming across East and West Africa and Near East and North Africa. What are some of the ways that you see digital tools really kind of transforming or contributing to change in the agriculture sector? Charlene Migwe-Kagume In the agriculture sector, as we say, it's pretty complex and to have holistic data sets is pretty expensive. So if I think about fertilizer use by crop, where you really need to understand the usage of inputs to better understand what farmers are using, are they using the right fertilizer, the right amounts… to see that is pretty expensive. And I think one of the goals for us with VIFAA is to really use innovation, or if even cropland mapping – as we discussed earlier – is a very expensive exercise to do. It has had its challenges in the past, but using technology 1) really makes it more efficient and cost effective to collect that data. And 2) once we address the efficiency and the costs, it really allows the partners in the space to do it more consistently. So in the past, we've seen outdated data. We've seen because of the expense of collecting data organizations just duplicating data across the different years because there's no access to this data. So I think innovation really drives down the cost and really allows for more consistent data collection. And we've seen that in our work that we do with QED, where they're able to generate cropland maps within half a year and a really good quality and over time improving that methodology could also allow us drive more cropland maps outside Nigeria and Ghana, where we really have to make it easier to do that. FUBC (fertilizer use by crop) data collection process is really trying to think about how technology can play a really big role in improving that data set and also the quality, of course, because in the past when FUBC was being collected it was entered manually. And some of the consultants who worked with at the country level had mentioned that there are quality issues because there was no way to be able to geotag, to be able to validate some of this data, or even just issues with some of the enumerators. So pretty excited about the technology and innovation that's coming around the agriculture space, but being also cognizant of making sure that innovation really fits a need of the data collection that's needed. Josh Powell Great. And I think one of the important things is that the majority of agricultural activity, particularly in East and West Africa, is through smallholders. And what are some of the ways that you think in this upcoming strategy we can increasingly reach and support smallholder productivity and income and food security. Charlene Migwe-Kagume So I think, one, our dashboard is already doing that. So I think some of our programs, as much as they are high level data, the end goal is always the farmer – trying to push decisions and policies that affect the farmer directly. I think the other thing is working with local partners for the uptake of some of the datasets we already have, that pushes key decision making initiatives that can really push the farmer farther. So as much as we are a source of data, how can this data really impact the farmer directly in terms of productivity? This will really depend on who's using some of this data and working with a lot of the a lot of initiatives locally where the interface with farmers to allow access to inputs, interface with farmers to really give them knowledge. And the past few weeks we have been discussing an issue of extension officers, who have been a key interface to the farmer. I’ll give you an example. In Kenya, extension offices have been devolved to the subnational level, usually it’s at the national level. And we've seen a challenge – once those devolved – in keeping the quality at par across all counties. So are the opportunities for technology to really push that information out and interface with farmers? But in discussion of the private sector that's already doing this. There are a whole bunch of challenges, the biggest for the past five years where mobile apps don't work for everyone. Mobile apps are not the end goal for information to farmers. So I think there's a lot of discussion around how can technology or innovation or data really reach farmers in the most efficient way. And we of startups around that space really trying – and not being able to – address that issue. And we've seen private sector, big private sector players, really trying to do that because if you're an “input” private sector player, giving information and awareness to farmers, of course is good for your sales and good farmer practices really improves sales, but getting that access to farmers has always been an issue. And I think there's an opportunity there to see what really works for farmers. Josh Powell And what tools, approaches, areas, or themes. Are you excited for us to really explore and to scale as we go into this new strategy? Charlene Migwe-Kagume I think our work on remote sensing is a really exciting one. I've been guilty of really trying to push toward this a number of times because… it is a data set that started in our work and is really an important one to inform policy. And it was recently launched and it also really informs private sector. So remote sensing, artificial intelligence – using it responsibly of course – to really come up with strong datasets that can support a dataset that's been really weak in the past. It is still important because we've had, especially with some of the data where we collect retail price, as I mentioned, fertilizer use by crop, where it's been done very manually in the past, it's been done. It's been quite a heavy lift for all our partners such as AfricaFertilizer.org to do this. So, can we be able to include it in a collection of affordable open source tools that can be used by government to track fertilizers but crop some of these issues where we've it's been really difficult to collect in the past? But, Josh, what do you think about data governance in terms of the agriculture space? It's been a really key discussion, data governance across all our work. I know procurement and open governance, but if you think about it from our agriculture work, do you think it has a place and where should we be going towards? When we think about data governance? Josh Powell Yeah, I think it's absolutely crucial. There are so many risks, particularly to smallholders, especially if you have, for example, insecure land tenure that the same remote sensing data that could be used to help inform information on crop yields or fertilizer use or land use could also be used by actors to target smallholders with limited land tenure and to do land grabs. And so those are the types of risks that I think we have to be incredibly mindful of. But I think there's very often in agriculture a bit of a model of trading services and or discounts on inputs for personal data, not always with the strongest kind of data governance protocols in place. And so I think it's really something that's always front and center in all of our work. I think with individuals and farmers data, a focus on group level risks as well as is really crucial. And then also I think we deal with a lot of sensitive data when it comes to, for example, the private sector. And so carving out really clear milieus or even NDAs that really prescribe the limitations of use of data so that it's in support of specific objectives. And that really I think is key to unlocking data sharing across government and private sector in particular, and to building that comfort level. And so I think taking the time upfront to architect data governance approaches that make sense and that meet the specific needs of the different stakeholders is critical. And then also being really diligent in following through on the implementation of those. And I think often a lot of initiatives fall short on the latter in terms of making sure that there's proper cybersecurity protocols in place and making sure that if data are meant to be used for individual purposes, that is clearly licenses and kind of restricts to use for those purposes. But if data are meant to be deleted at a certain point that they're in fact deleted and destroyed appropriately. And I think all of those things are really crucial elements of our work. I think the other thing that it highlight and some exploratory research work that we're doing right now is looking at how can you have more participatory approaches that involve farmers in defining the data governance of how their data and data about them or data that's relevant to them is governed and used. And so that's research that we're doing with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID and really looking at what do participatory approaches to farmer centered data governance look like. And that's something I'm really excited about trying to push the agricultural space forward on in the years ahead. Charlene Migwe-Kagume Oh, wonderful. And I think I think I'll ask you a question you asked me, because I think it's something that really resonates across all our agricultural work. How do you think actors like us can really beef up the impact that we have towards farmers? Because at the end of the day, we're supposed to be benefiting farmers. What are some of the learnings we've had and how can people in that space really push that forward? Josh Powell I think there are a lot of different paths to impact on smallholder farmers here. Some are, as you highlighted, kind of the upstream policy paths. Can you inform central and subnational government decisions on things like subsidy allocation? Can you drive more efficient and effective allocation of inputs by the private sector to make sure that, for example, the right products, the right fertilizer, the right seed varietals are in the market at the right moments in the planting season? And I think all of those kind of them lead to downstream impacts on smallholder farmers. But I think as we move more into digital innovation, I think there's also more space for us to directly interact with and impact smallholder farmers, whether that's through kind of supporting more effective extension practices, using digital tools to deliver better information to smallholders, whether that's collecting more smallholder data to be ethically and responsibly and using that to to drive better allocation of resources or other tools that we might use to deploy directly for smallholder farmers. So I think while a lot of our work is a bit more upstream working with government and with private sector, I think there will be more and more opportunities in this new strategy to work closer and closer to the smallholder level. Charlene Migwe-Kagume Yeah, and I’ve recently had discussions on extension work and realizing that its still a government mandate to do extension work, right? So it's something that we have to do in collaboration with government as we're thinking of rolling anything out. If you think about technology and data in terms of extension in farmer services, working with government to be able to push that forward. So, Josh, my last question related to that, in terms of how can we better ensure government really owns some of this work that we're doing, including extension work, including policy, how can we really institutionalize some of this working with government? Josh Powell And that's always a critical question, I think. I think there are two ways. The first is really being able to demonstrate the impact of the work. And I think we're seeing that increasingly in our work that government are relying on the data, that they're better able to collaborate with the private sector and then hopefully that is now leading to better decision making, better resource allocation, better policies. I think that impact pieces is always the most important. I think the second that's really critical is working through existing processes, existing mechanisms, and embedding data and technology in those as opposed to trying to create new processes and new policies. So I think that's something that I think we've been really successful in, is working through existing government systems, existing processes and protocols and really identifying within the bureaucracy, not just at the political level, but within the bureaucracy itself. Who are some of the champions who can drive that forward and how can we make sure that the work that we're doing is aligned with the objectives of the government writ large, but also aligned with the mandates of individuals working within government? Charlene Migwe-Kagume Yeah. And I think generally, I think, the question for the both of us in terms of what growth in agriculture really looks like going forward. Outside innovation what do you think the future like? What are the themes that will be coming up? What does that mean, more strategic outlook in agriculture generally? Are we still going to focus on policy interventions or high level or in this strategy, would you think? Should we also look at the farmer centric work that we've already spoken about? What level should we be looking at to the new strategy? Josh Powell I really think we have to look at both. It's a core competency of DG working directly with government. It's something that we do extremely well and I think that the need for data and proper ability and collaboration across stakeholders is not going anywhere. And we're really seen as an honest broker who has both the political capabilities to help bring stakeholders together, but then also the technical capabilities to deliver value from that collaboration. But at the same time, I think as we see increasing digital innovation and often experimentation, I think there is a strong role for us both in terms of ensuring that digital innovation in the agricultural space is done ethically and responsibly, is done not just with an intention to serve the good of smallholder farmers, but with the actual implementation matching those intentions and being mindful of, for example, potential alternative uses of data or externalities that might not be immediately evident in a program design. And so I think we have a role both as an advisor in the digital agricultural space for smallholders and also potentially more and more as an implementer in building out tools and technologies that can be used to better meet the needs of smallholders. Charlene Migwe-Kagume Yeah, I agree. And I think even in discussions that I had with different people who have, I think, reflected a lot of digital solutions, let's be honest, in terms of interfacing with farmers and I agree with you, a really great place for DG would be that advisory in terms of ethical use and ethical engagement, in terms of the data that's been used. But also really advising on ensuring some of the solutions are impactful to farmers and designed well enough with the farmer needs in mind has been one of the gaps that have seen in some of the digital solutions. So I'm excited to hear that the direction requires some of our work being both policy and government level. Josh Powell Charlene, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today. Charlene Migwe-Kagume Thank you. Vanessa Goas Special thanks to all our guests. This podcast was produced by Lindsey Fincham with support from Analisa Goodmann. Our theme music was created by Mark Hatcher. Learn more about Development Gateway on our website, developmentgateway.org, or through our social media.

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