We Can Create Accurate African Agriculture Statistics in 48 Months

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In an African country (any of them), down comes a memo from the District Office to Local Authority. Please supply list of all farmers in your locality, adding the actual active acreage of plantation of each crop this active season. Kindly submit your report by 5pm on X day on the X month. This data is important for the Ministry of Agriculture. It’s your duty to have the data by the deadline.
Chaos ensues at the local authority. It doesn’t have the staff or skills to collect real data in the required timeframe. So, what really happens? Speculative figures from the local authority go up to District Office, then Regional Office, to the Ministry leaders.
Whatever the budget is, it has to be exploded by up to 50% because everybody knows that the figures are inaccurate. Yet the Ministry isn’t too worried. The data is for the World Bank, who needs these figures for a ‘BIG National Loan’.
This may sound like fiction, or is it reality? All I will say is it’s the same unknown figures everybody relies on to make a number of speculative conclusions like “Africa is underfeeding itself”, that “in 2030 Africa can feed itself” or any of a myriad of pronouncements that can’t be verified with solid statistical facts.
The data used are often from such different sources and eventually obtain the FAO or World Bank stamp, so they become the oracle. Academics cite them and the academicians are cited by policy makers, including the same Regional, District and Local Officers who came up with the data. Consultants rely on the data for reports to the same international organisations. The only thing you often hear is “… these figures are from 20xxx or 19xxx so be careful in your analysis…”
Admittedly, countries are a large part of the agriculture census problem by feeding the oracle with speculative data. Short time to compile a massive set of data means a lot of extrapolation. Places where enumerators are supposed to visit, are not, because of distance, cost, time, etc. Yet the figures come out.
An interesting round robin, eh?
48 Months to Generate Accurate Agriculture Statistics
But Africa can compile a true African picture of the agriculture sector within 48 months so to stop consulting the oracle. To stop all the AU, AfDB, NEPAD, World Bank, FAO, IFAD investing huge sums annually on projects that depend on wrong statistical data.
Did I hear the age old saying, “It will be too expensive!”
No, it need not be if we plan. A good agricultural data collection tool used on a daily basis by the farmer, the agricultural extension agent, the district officer, the regional officer on the actual farm can consciously gather exact figures for Africa. Then we can say we have the figures.
1. Start with the Farmer
Who is the master on farm? The farmer. That farmer is on his or her farm on a daily basis. When that farmer needs help agricultural extension officers are called and they work regularly with the farmer on the farm.
Empower the agricultural extension officer, the executives of farmer-based organisations, and the farmer to generate accurate data on the farm.
Typically, the farmer will walk around the farm at least once every week. Let the farmer map the extent of the farm. Every ridge or crop will be visited by the farmer at least once a month. Let the farmer map each ridge, each crop as he or she attends to them. Farm hands will weed the farm at least once a quarter. Use this opportunity to record the activity and the extent of that activity.
If a farmer has been empowered to use the same farming tool to conduct activities on his farm, record such activities on the farm, rely on the expertise from such tool to help him/her plant, fertilize, weed, spray where necessary, harvest, and sell, we will within one cropping cycle have a baseline data to start generating proper statistics.
2. Track Farm Activities
In areas that have 2 cropping seasons a year, this same process can be undertaken to verify the first set of data. Where officers are engaged to assist on the farm, these officers can also be empowered to collect regular data. Within 48 months of 4 farming seasons, #smallholder farms will have been able to:

  • map the farm fields and boundaries
  • map the crops in each field
  • map the ridges in each field
  • calculate actual yield on their farms (not speculate it)
  • scan and report on pests and diseases
  • interact with qualified officers who could assist
  • put their produce up for sale, generating real production figures

Agricultural officers, within the same 48 months, are assumed in the worst-case scenario to have visited each farm, at least once. In a scenario where an active intervention is pushed by policy makers at national, Regional Economic Commission and African Union levels, the officers would do more. We will at least know:

  • each smallholder farmer family
  • their living situation
  • the farm location and crops grown
  • assistance given to each farmer
  • the revenue each farmer generates

The Solutions Exist Today
This can be done with the help of:

  1. good spatial database designed for agriculture and for Africa (example Henson Geodata Technologies (HGT) had Dumela Agric Database for Africa. AfriGIS may have a database on agriculture)
  2. a good software designed for all of these activities (loads of African technologies existing including HGT’s own MyAgro360. With tools as myagro360, farmers farm, record necessary activities, build tracking and traceability data, compile data on their activities and push out records to the required data sources.
  3. integrating the data from different sources especially the good technological solutions (for instance real-time data from the apps help populate or update the GIS infrastructure), and
  4. Using our good-given talent to put this oracle together every 10 years, just like we do with national population census

Give a decent smart phone to a farmer family. Please do not tell me they are too dense to read and understand. They are capable. If our experts claim the farmers are too dense to read, let us use the expertise of our experts to translate the solutions for the consumption of our “dumb farmers”. We have too many arm chaired experts who denigrate our farmers anyway.
I strongly believe the small holder farmer is not a dumb farmer.
Introduce geospatial technologies, artificial intelligence and a tinge of intelligence into smart mobile and web solutions. Good technology solutions in the hands of Agriculture Extension Agents and farmers on this African continent will yield real statistics in 48 months. Nothing exceptional needed.
Just the will to create the data. And the open ear to listen to real farmers while seated in the high financial and policy making towers. Let’s farm our own realistic oracle.
Kofi Henaku, PhD, is the CEO of Henson Geodata Technologies Ltd
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