Netflix-inspired tools can reap rewards for farmers

  • 18th December 2019
  • by secretary
12 December 2019. (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – What does online streaming giant Netflix have in common with smallholder farmers? Both can benefit from sharing data, according to one of this year’s Nobel prize winners.

Much as entertainment service Netflix bases recommendations on what viewers have watched, mobile phone-based tools could be used to mine information from some of the world’s poorest farmers in return for customised advice.

“The growth in mobile phone use means such crowd-sourced information could be easily distributed, helping small farmers improve yields. Some of the real gains from this will come from customisation. If you can customise information so farmers are getting information on the weather for their particular local area, for the crops they grow, if there’s an outbreak of a pest … you can start to see some of the potential.Michael Kremer, co-winner of the 2019 Nobel in economic sciences.

A rush of innovation aimed at helping the smallholder farmers who provide most of the world’s food has seen the development of a range of phone-based agricultural advice tools by governments, companies, and non-profit organisations.

Farmers who use the services see their yields raise by an average of about 4% – and technology developments will make them even more effective, predicted Kremer and two co-authors in a research paper published in the journal Science on Thursday.

The services could also offer a chance to gather information for far-flung and disparate smallholders which highlight shared issues or opportunities, they said, and allow the tools’ creators to hone their advice in response. Farmers could be incentivised by the offer of advice tailored to the information they send, said the paper.

“A farmer who reports a bug attacking their crops could be used to warn other farmers and create a map of the infestation. The spread of digital advice tools is growing rapidly and could have a real impact on small farmers. There’s two billion people who live in households engaged in smallholder farming – almost a third of humanity and two thirds of the world’s poor. Right now, the number of people who are reached is a small fraction of the potential. There is a lot of interest and a lot of growth in this area because more and more of the farmers have phones and more and more will have smartphones over time.”

Michael Kremer delivered his Prize Lecture on Sunday 8 December 2019, at the Aula Magna, Stockholm University. He was introduced by Professor Torsten Persson, member of the Economic Sciences Prize Committee.

The video starts @ the statement: “We need also innovation in the Funding institutions”
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