New tool launched to help measure digital innovation impacts across food systems
The Digital Food Systems Evidence Clearing House is building the evidence base for digital interventions, from production to policy.
In Southeast Asia, millions of farmers are making use of an app that employs algorithms to identify plant diseases in photos snapped and uploaded by farmers in their fields. Tea farms in Turkey have optimized fertilizer use thanks to a mobile auditing application, and a local Chinese government is protecting valuable farmland from illegal construction through high-resolution satellite imagery.
At every point along the food system continuum, digital innovations are changing the way we engage with agricultural processes, yet little is known about their comprehensive, verified impacts on various stakeholders.
To close this knowledge gap, the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture has launched the Evidence Clearing House—an online tool that consolidates impact evidence from digital food system interventions around the world and allows users to monitor trends in the digital innovation sphere. It builds on an effort first developed under the USAID initiative ‘Digital Development for Feed the Future’.
The Clearing House functions like a search engine. Users can filter their search to show results for specific food systems activities, components, geographical regions, or types of interventions.
Featured interventions must provide a thorough description of their services, the estimated number of active users, and credible evidence of impact broken down into economic, environmental, social, technical components, as well as the overall impact on food systems efficiency.
“We need to be more intentional about innovation in the agricultural technology sector. This tool helps us do that,” says BIG DATA Platform Coordinator Brian King.
Mergdata, a featured intervention that disseminates location-specific weather forecasts, market prices, and crop-specific climate-smart agricultural practices to smallholder farmers, is an excellent example of an intervention that demonstrates clear impact indicators.
Mergdata reports 360,000 current users across 13 countries, and farmers receive the information via mobile voice messages in their preferred local language.
A third-party impact assessment of the intervention showed that 65% of the farmers who have benefited from Mergdata’s services are receiving quality and affordable inputs for the first time. Additionally, the service has been successful in reaching some of the most vulnerable farmers; over 50% of the beneficiary farmers live below the poverty line in their respective countries.
Other reported impacts include more efficient chemical use, increased resilience to climate shocks, higher yields, and better market access.
For decades, the impact evidence for digital interventions has been thin, leading to holes in our understanding of how they affect food systems. Therefore, gathering more evidence-based entries like Mergdata’s is an essential step towards building a knowledge base that informs the digital transformation of the agricultural sector.
BIG DATA Platform Co-Founder and CIAT Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area Director, Andy Jarvis comments that the Clearing House is a strategic resource for the sector.
“The Clearing House will help us answer many of the questions we have about where, when, and how digital food system interventions operate. Compiling and analyzing the impact data will better our understanding of intervention trends, high-success entry points, and the quantifiable influence they have on food systems,” Jarvis says.
Once sufficient impact evidence is collected, the Clearing House will be used to periodically generate synthesis reports and meta-analyses of the ‘state of the evidence for digital food systems’.
“In-depth analysis of the impacts of digital interventions is the most critical component need to recognize successful initiatives, appropriately allocate funding and resources, and help outstanding projects find paths to scale,” says Jonathan Mockshell, a Digital Food System Expert and Agricultural Economist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and Clearing House creator.
“In order for digital agriculture interventions to create the transformative change they seek, verified evidence must be the touchstone of the industry,” he adds.
With credible data made available by the Clearing House, development agencies, investors, and digital innovators will have better, more complete information at hand in order to design, construct, regulate, and invest in sustainable, inclusive digital food systems.
September 10, 2019