Approach to the Apps4Ag database


With CTA’s experience in knowledge management for agriculture and rural development, its current expertise in ICTs for agriculture and rural development, and its leadership in the organisation of the ICT4Ag Conference, wishes to address the need to provide the agricultural value chain development community and the App development community with a sustainable platform for interaction that meets the rapidly changing requirements of these stakeholders.

Apps4Ag will boost information dissemination, knowledge exchange, extension and advisory service delivery, farmer engagement, and market access for both agricultural inputs and outputs.

CTA proposes to establish the space for interaction through the following steps:

Stage 1: Building a comprehensive database on Apps4Ag
As requested by participants at the ICT4Ag Conference, CTA will establish and coordinate a comprehensive database of applications for agriculture. The approach will consist of building on and adding value to past initiatives and working with current initiatives, such as the GSMA mAgri Deployment Tracker, to complement their descriptions for use in value chain development.
CTA already has details of numerous ICT applications for agriculture through its past activities and through its flagship ICT magazine – ICT Update.

Stage 2: Mapping the apps along a value chain framework
The first step to add value to the database will be to map the apps collated along an agricultural value chain framework to facilitate search, retrieval and use by the value chain actors. Figure 1 above shows the approach to integrating ICTs into an agricultural value chain. It has four components and a number of sub-categories. While specific applications developed and being used for each of these components and sub-categories are aggregated, others with cross-cutting, holistic or an integrative approach will be marked accordingly in the database. The use of segmentation in the value chain framework enables the identification of apps that address specific requirements of each component, hence highlight those apps that may specifically address one segment well rather than attempt to cover a larger part of the value chain with lower level of detail.

Based on a value chain framework developed at CTA, the database consists of the following:

Value chain components
These are components within an agricultural value chain for which specific ICT applications could support.

The six main components identified are:

  1. Pre-production – apps supporting activities of stakeholders before actual cultivation activities.
  2. Production – apps supporting activities directly related to production until harvest.
  3. Post-harvest – apps supporting activities related to after harvest.
  4. Data and climate – apps supporting data management for sustainable agriculture
  5. Finance – apps supporting access and management of finance for agriculture
  6. Collaboration and Networking – apps supporting linkages between actors along the value chain

Value chain sub-components
These are activities within the components and are very specific. applications that aim to support specific activities classified under these sub-components. At the moment, 33 sub-components are listed below.

Component C: Undertaking an apps4Ag design phase

Before commencing the development phase, CTA and its partners have undertaken an Apps4Ag design process to validate the intended impact through development of user personas and use cases, mitigation approaches for slow ICT uptake pertinent to the Apps4Ag database, and a sustainable business model. This will help to further validate the current data on the use of the applications, understand the value chain actors, identify mitigation strategies for recurrent ICT uptake problems, and provide the strategic direction necessary to commence development.

Stage 3: Developing a framework for assessing ICT and mobile applications
CTA is developing a framework for assessing the usability and functionality of ICT and mobile applications for value chain development in collaboration with partners involved in value chain development, especially those with close linkages with the private sector (e.g. COLEACP). This framework is an initial taxonomy to assess the usability and functionality of the applications within the agricultural value chain. The framework and its components will consist of criteria for assessing applications within the various components of the value chain. For example:

  • The potential for the application to address the information processing requirements for a particular segment of the value chain from the perspective of value chain actors.
  • The ability of the application to address the information processing requirements for that particular segment to assist in decision-making.
  • The ability of the application to process and present information along a value chain segment such that it can be integrated into other applications operating along neighbouring value chain segments (openness, interoperability).
  • The ability of the application to integrate several segments of the value chain, without losing its capacity to address the main targeted segment.
  • The user friendliness of the interface and presentation of required sets of information.
  • The efficiency of processing information from various sources and other ICT criteria for generating information.

By applying this framework to existing and newly developed applications, CTA can tag and classify applications in the Apps4Ag database. This framework will comprise of three categories:

  • People – what are the different audiences, external stakeholders, and the important demographical information for an application? End users will understand the intended audience of an application by reviewing these attributes
  • Business – what purpose does the application serve? What segments of the agricultural value chain are involved? What is the financial model to ensure long-term sustainability for the application? By understanding these components, end users can understand the business value of the application.
  • Technology – does the application provide content that is relevant to the end user? Is there potential to use the applications with others that serve different segments of the value chain? On what devices and infrastructure will I need to rely? By understanding these important technology and data attributes, end users can understand how they will use the application within the context of their business.

The framework will be applied to existing applications in the field and newly developed applications ready to be deployed. It will guide the definition of requirements arising from evaluations by the community of practice, and also act as a guide for new applications yet to be developed.

Stage 4: Pilot testing and rolling-out the framework
This component can be subdivided into two categories:

Firstly, in collaboration with its partners, as well as value chain organisations on the ground, CTA will launch several pilot cases to test the framework in different locations, different applications addressing different components of the value chain, and using existing programmes/initiatives of regional organisations as a way of validating the use of the assessment framework and to galvanise a ‘community of practice’ around the tool and platform. CTA will be adopting the framework to guide its programmes on value chain development, especially when addressing ICT tools to help in the process.

Secondly, the next step will be to bring together outputs/results from the various pilot programmes for both value chain and ICT stakeholders, led by the community of practice built around agricultural development issues. The goal is to study the results, provide feedback on the framework, and support its validation for rollout. Once this is done, a series of events at regional and national levels will be organised to explain the functions of the framework and how it can be used to guide the deployment of ICTs for agriculture projects. CTA has already taken a number of steps to support this component including the following;

  • Grants for five on-going proof-of-concept cases totaling €400,000 in the Caribbean, West Africa and East Africa.
  • Call for papers on ‘Failing to scale up in ICT for agriculture projects: learning lessons from the field’  to support the design phase of the Apps4Ag Database.

Lessons learned from these pilot cases will further inform the development of the assessment criteria. Once the assessment criteria are established, the community of practice will be able to apply the same framework and submit their evaluations of new apps, or new versions of existing apps. The community of practice is expected to grow with increasing confidence in their ability review, assess, and rate the applications using the framework. CTA remains committed to sustaining the communnity and the platform as it provides a neutral environment to monitor the development of apps in the agricultural sector, not only to satisfy its mandate of support to agricultural and rural development institutions in ACP regions, but also as an international open and accessible resource.

Stage 5: Apps4Ag Learning Opportunities
The goal of this component is to build the capacity/capability and break down barriers for the users or the intended users to adopt and use the application for agricultural development. In this context CTA anticipates partnership with successful value added service providers and app developers in running a series of events where interested and potential users of a specific app for agriculture can be trained in their use. The target audience should be the users or intended users of the application such as smallholder farmers, fisherfolks, market women, researchers and extension officers. The training sessions could be tailored to specific audiences. The training curriculum could be delivered in one day for 25 participants, depending on the situation. Interested partners in collaboration with CTA could fund up to 20 events over a period of 4 months, if feasible. A good number of trainees should be targeted and attained (about 500 people per application is estimated). CTA is currently supporting the first two of this activity in Ghana and Uganda and lessons from these will be used to improve the model.

The Apps4Ag database project, through its different components, is expected to address the current challenge facing most ICT4Ag initiatives: to scale up and be sustainable after donor support ends. Scaling up requires systemic effort, long-term commitment on the part of institutions, donors, and individuals. It requires a basic set of institutional values and incentives for key actors to continuously identify ways to build on successful interventions ensuring that they are replicated, transferred, and adapted in other settings. In order to support the up-scaling of ICT4Ag initiatives, a knowledge management approach will be developed to document the rollout of the framework from country to country for a range of commodities. Lessons learned from countries/regions, commodities, and applications can be made available to stakeholders who intend to deploy similar applications in different geographical contexts.

© 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.