What does technology mean to you? Does the thought of a blockchain ledger come to mind? Or, perhaps drones making deliveries to your doorstep? Or, the newest smart phone? When we have access to information and knowledge of what potential technological advancements exist, our minds wander to the most current or near-future possibilities.
The Oxford dictionary defines technology as:
“The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry”
All of the above examples serve a practical purpose in certain industries. For instance, blockchain ledgers can provide supply chain traceability while drone deliveries can facilitate blood deliveries in the healthcare industry in Rwanda. In the agricultural industry, particularly the sector that serves smallscale farmers (oftentimes known as smallholder farmers), the application of scientific knowledge must happen in a way that is practical for the smallscale farmer.
As an organization, we choose agricultural technologies and innovations that serve the smallscale farmers in their program. They are technologies that increase incomes more rapidly and, thus, decrease the farmers’ dependence on our program, thereby helping them “graduate” out of donor aid. Not only that, these technologies are better for our environment because they fight climate change and build climate resilience.
Some examples of technologies and innovations that we consider are (note that these are only a sample of technologies):
- Solar-powered water pumps: Typically, farmers use rain to irrigate their land. However, rain only falls during certain months of the year (e.g. October to March). There have been more and more climate shocks that result in drastically reduced rainfall, thereby destroying all of the effort put into producing rainfed crops. Water access has become an increasingly pressing need when wells and rivers start to run dry after severe drought. Traditional water pumps that lift water from a below-ground source require diesel, which is costly and not great for the environment. Solar-powered pumps are expensive but the solar pumps use free energy from the sun!
- Handheld soil testing devices: In low resource regions where there hasn’t been proper care of the soil, the soil has been depleted of its nutrients. This leads to consistently low yields. Traditionally, the elements of a soil’s composition are often tested in a laboratory but this approach is completely unrealistic for smallscale farmers who use farming as a means of survival. A handheld soil testing device – when used under the appropriate conditions – provides immediately results to the farmer and her extension officer, thereby allowing them to input the necessary organic elements back into the soil. This will eventually lead to healthier soil which is excellent for the environment but also results in higher crop yields.
- Post-harvest storage solutions: Because of desperation for cash at the time of harvest, smallscale farmers tend to sell all of their crop. At that point, the prices are extremely low because the product floods the market. A post-harvest storage solution, such as sealed hermetic bags, allow farmers to clean their grain and store it in an airtight storage bag, which acts like a mini silo. These bags prevent the growth of mold, insect colonies, etc. For fresh produce, we intend to supply cooperatives with solar-powered cold storage units, or fridges. When prices peak, farmers are able to take advantage of the prices and sell the crop that's stored.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for smallscale farmers. However, this multi-pronged approach will more rapidly increase incomes throughout the calendar year so that farmers can truly become independent, profit-generating individuals.