Smallholder farms support more than two billion people worldwide, but many rely on inefficient and environmentally unsustainable agricultural practices. Small changes in agricultural practices can substantially improve productivity and profitability. However, offering farmers standardized agricultural advice has limited effectiveness due to variation in local conditions and farmer characteristics. Traditional extension systems have been unable to incorporate and disseminate this information to farmers, in part due to the high costs of operating in rural areas.
In developed countries, precision agriculture technologies are transforming agricultural production by allowing farmers to better target inputs and management decisions to local conditions. In developing countries, most precision agriculture technologies are beyond the reach of most farmers. However, several technological innovations have created new opportunities to provide customized information to farmers:
- Mobile soil analysis labs with spectroscopy improve access to high quality soil data
- Satellite and drone photographs enable data collection and validation from above
- New weather prediction models generate real-time estimates useful to farmers
- Widespread mobile phone use facilitates information delivery and collection
These technologies can be combined with the best available research to improve information content and messaging effectiveness:
- Behavioral economics can improve messaging and encourage adoption
- Social learning theory can facilitate the diffusion of relevant information
- Big data and machine learning allow for personalized advice
- A/B tests allow near instantaneous upgrades
- Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) make for more rigorous evaluation
PAD harnesses these innovations in technology and research to improve the lives of smallholder farmers. We are taking ideas from precision agriculture in developed countries and adapting them to the needs and constraints of farmers in developing countries. Because individual farmers are often not able to invest in data collection and experimentation themselves, PAD brings this customized information to farmers’ fingertips.