By Ruud Grim, senior Advisor at Netherlands Space Office
I met Paul Voutier in Singapore about a year ago; within 10 minutes of information and idea exchanges, we instantly agreed upon the idea of organizing a joint session of Grow Asia and Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW) in Singapore, focusing on geodata captured through satellites, and how it can be used to generate meaningful agricultural advise for smallholder farmers, leading to more efficient and sustainable outcomes.
As a multi-stakeholder partnership platform, Grow Asia catalyses action on inclusive and sustainable agricultural development in South East Asia. G4AW is a grant program from the Netherlands government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that supports public private partnerships to develop advisory and/or financial services for smallholder food producers in developing countries using satellite and other geodata.
With similar objectives it was immediately evident that bringing the two initiatives together in a workshop could lead to new ideas and impulses. And indeed, people attending the Grow Asia Digital Learning Event on “Space for Agriculture in South East Asia” were impressed by the various ongoing service developments all of which make use of geodata across Asia to achieve better outcomes for farmers, from preventing diseases in crops to guaranteeing incomes.
Each project uses geodata in different ways. G4Indo aims to guarantee income of investments by smallholder food producers. Smallholder farmers in Bangladesh will benefit from GEOBIS’ as well as IDSS’ agricultural advice, and GEOPOTAO to prevent potato disease. In Vietnam, resilience of rice and coffee producing communities will be improved by Sat4Rice and GREENcoffee. In Indonesia, SMARTseeds will support farmers growing chilli, tomato and cucumber. Angkor Salad (Cambodia), Spice-Up (Indonesia), MYVAS4AGRI and SAM (Myanmar) provide agricultural advice to farmers. SAM (Myanmar) also provides financial services.
Observations from 3 years “G4AW” service development Over the last three years, the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) coordinating G4AW has analysed the granted projects and the progress in service development and engagement with the clients: the smallholder farmers.
Based on this analysis, several observations were noted:
1. Farmer engagement is crucial and can be achieved through the use of extension services, NGO’s, call centers, and with the availability of digital connectivity, communication is possible between farmers.
2. While it was concluded that farmers are willing to pay for insights and information marketing studies showed that in reality, farmers are hesitant.
3. Revenues are more likely to come from B2B service provision; most G4AW projects have realized this opportunity and are exploring this route.
4. In several G4AW projects, a local agricultural company is engaged, which provides an excellent opportunity for reaching a large number of farmers. G4AW are also working on demonstrating the potential benefit of satellite data based services, e.g. for improving logistics to update existing partners on progress while looking to attract new partners.
5. It is important to implement guidelines and protocols around business ownership to maintain a clear structure. Projects that typically start out as a public-private partnership have to be transformed into service-oriented organizations.
6. Projects with existing agribusinesses in the partnership do not require a social enterprise to be established first, making the process easier.
7. In most projects, close monitoring of finances is crucial to ensure the project is at a sustainable stage when grant funding ends.
As any project reaches the end of a grant cycle, they risk falling off a “grant canyon”. It becomes clear that more collaboration and investment is needed to bring G4AW and alike services to scale in order to have an impact.
The observations above play an important role and is in line with our vision and ambition to support millions of smallholder farmers through digital advisory and/or financial services.
Participants in the GrowAsia-G4AW Digital Learning Event were impressed, and several Singapore participants expressed a keen interested in financial services (insurance, inclusive finance). While agri-advisory is considered important by most people, there is still room for us to educate more people on the importance of finance/investment, similar to financial services. Organizations developing agri-advisory services will always be seeking (impact) investors to step to enable development and service provision. During the Singapore event we concluded that further discussion with stakeholders and more action is needed to bridge the “Grant Canyon”.
Coordinator G4AW, Netherlands Space Office
About the author
Ruud Grim, senior advisor at Netherlands Space Office, is coordinating the Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW) programme commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. G4AW supports 23 partnerships to develop and operate financially sustainable services for 4.5 million smallholder farmers and pastoralists in 14 developing countries, based on innovative business models. He is advisor to Dutch ministries involving international collaboration using satellite and other geodata. He is also advisor to the Geodata for Inclusive Finance & Food Initiative (G4IFF) by Dutch Platform for Inclusive Finance. He has worked 15 years in industry on project management and business development. He can be found on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @RuudGrim.