Brazil: first Latin American country slated to benefit from agricultural digital solutions, spearheaded by Nobel Prize winner, Michael Kremer
San Jose, 18 August 2020 (IICA). Brazil will become the first Latin American country to receive digital solutions for the development of agriculture, spearheaded by the 2019 Nobel Prize winner for Economics, Michael Kremer.
The initial focus will be remote assistance for thousands of small farmers in Brazil’s north-east region, who earn their livelihood from sheep and goat rearing, and corn and bean cultivation.
The announcement was made by Tereza Cristina, Brazil’s Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, at a virtual ceremony in which Kremer was conferred with the title of Goodwill Ambassador of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). IICA will partner in the initiative that will share information with small farmers via their mobile phones, to boost their productivity, and in turn their income and standard of living.
Speaking at the ceremony, Minister Cristina remarked that, “We are building a digital technical assistance and rural extension program with new tools that can expand the services delivered to small farmers. Through this partnership with Michael Kremer, IICA—which represents the different agriculture sectors of the Americas—is providing a major instrument for development. Today, knowledge is one of the primary inputs for agricultural growth and increased income for farmers”.
“This venture utilizes methodologies that are governed by agile and more profitable processes, and by technology that has been proven and tested by a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics”, she argued. “This is smart technology that allows us to tackle the pandemic’s effects and threats on food security and to continue to innovate, which is the hallmark of Brazilian agribusiness. I am grateful for the support of IICA’s Director General, Manuel Otero, in forging this new partnership”.
Kremer is one of the founders of Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD), an organization that has delivered digital technical support and rural extension services to family farmers in Asia and Africa, which has been key to enabling them, as the weakest links in the agriculture sector, to boost their output and increase their income.
IICA signed an agreement with PAD in June to enable Latin America and the Caribbean to implement the method that has been successfully introduced in India, Ethiopia and Kenya, with a view to reducing rural poverty and promoting social and production inclusion and sustainable economic and environmental development.
The joint venture between Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA), PAD and IICA, will utilize the successful methodology to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, which has prevented in-person delivery of rural extension services. It will also aim to improve the production and output of farmers, who earn their living from sheep and goat rearing and corn and bean cultivation.
Over a two-year period, MAPA, PAD and IICA will provide technical assistance and rural extension services to approximately 200,000 small farmers in north-east Brazil, through landline and mobile phone messages, and even using 2G technology that is available in Brazil’s remote areas. The team will offer guidance on pests, crops, best practices and animal health, through an already tested multi-platform system, with the capacity to transmit information via SMS.
Digital technology offers the opportunity for remote delivery of personalized information at an infinitely lower cost than the system that has been in place for decades. This has become even more necessary at a time when the destructive effects of Covid-19 have constrained the traditional extension model.
IICA’s Director General pointed out that, “PAD provides a reliable service that sends technical information directly to the homes of farmers, advising them about soil preparation, overseeing their production, climate conditions, as well as pest and disease control and management, to mention just a few examples. The PAD methodology allows governments and institutions to send a weekly technical message at a cost as low as USD 1.5 per family per year, which is 200 to 300 times less than traditional technical assistance services”.
“These results create new perspectives and opportunities for the more than 17 million small farmers in Latin America and the Caribbean”, remarked Otero. “I am extremely proud of IICA’s achievements in the last few months, amidst this terrible pandemic. For example, we have signed a letter of understanding with PAD and have been able to conduct meetings with our Member States, as we explore new opportunities to provide the region with innovative services of the highest quality”.
Meanwhile, the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Colombia, Rodolfo Zea Navarro, praised PAD and IICA’s initiative.
“We are convinced that the rural sector will leave its mark on, and spearhead economic rejuvenation. We are certain that with IICA’s support, and all the knowledge and global experience of Professor Kremer, we will be able to use technological tools for the development of agriculture, and we will succeed in improving the productivity levels of all producers,” said Zea Navarro.
“With IICA’s support and with Kremer’s global experience, I see a huge opportunity to conduct extension work and precision agriculture using communication and audiovisual tools in order to reach farmers in isolated parts of Colombia”, the minister added.
PAD’s experience and family-based agriculture in Brazil
Studies conducted by PAD in Asia and Africa show that remote rural extension services boosted productivity levels more than 11%, and that transmitting information via SMS increased by 22% the likelihood of farmers using adequate inputs.
“Large-scale transmission of information by cellphones can reduce the negative effects of the pandemic and advance the fight against poverty. I co-founded PAD in order to train farmers in the use of digital tools and information to mitigate poverty and improve agricultural productivity. I am enthused by the scale and experience this collaboration will bring in serving the poor farmers of Brazil”, said Kremer, who pointed out that PAD’s system will also benefit from the information provided by the farmers themselves.
In Brazil, nearly half (46.5%) of rural establishments have internet connectivity, but barely 13% have access to broad band connection, which would allow for greater speed and hence the connection of powerful tools for rural development such as precision agriculture, which implies the transmission of a high volume of data (big data).
According to official 2020 data, approximately 51% of rural homes in Brazil have access to mobile services for personal use, which facilitates tasks that require direct communication with the farmers such as phone calls, sending and receiving SMS (short message service) and email, all of which can be done using existing communications infrastructure.
This infrastructure is sufficient to provide farmers within the region with technical training based on simple technologies.
The information content provided by these services will be created by veterinarians, agronomists, zootechnicians, researchers, and specialists in livestock and other fields, with support from IICA, MAPA and other strategic partners, such as the respective units of Embrapa -which have specific knowledge for particular lines of work- state agencies and universities.
Content will be personalized based on a wide variety of characteristics relating to the property and the farmer, such as geographic location, soil type, climate, extreme events, and water security, among others.
Family-based agriculture accounts for 23% of the country’s productive surface and directly employs 10 million people, i.e. 67% of the total number of persons dedicated to farming. It produces around one third of the country’s agricultural GDP.
The Northeast Region of Brazil is the region with the largest number of family-based farmers, with approximately 2.2 million such farmers, or 45.8% of the total. The region is particularly known for the production of small ruminants such as goats and sheep, and for the production of grains, especially corn and varieties of beans. Among the most popular lines of work for family-based farming are mutton and sheep’s milk, for which the region has 16 million heads of herd.
Another significant area of work in the region is the cultivation of beans, which occupies approximately 1.62 million hectares of land, larger than the sum of cultivated land in the South, Southeast, and Central-West areas, which cover 1.37 million hectares. However, productivity in the Northeast Region is the lowest in the country.
Within the context of Covid-19, the method PAD developed for sending technical training information to small producers in several countries facilitated the continuation of farming activities in countries such as Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia.
PAD conducted extensive surveys among farmers in India, Kenya, Pakistan and Uganda, to compile information on the challenges farmers encountered as a result of Covid-19 and to help them face these challenges, which include interruptions in terms of access to supply markets, and to transportation to deliver the crops to the market, price fluctuations, loss of income, compromised food security, the need to spend savings or sell shares, and forced migration, among others.
Institutional Communication Division of IICA.