IITA focuses on integrated digital tools for accelerating agricultural transformation in sub-Saharan Africa

15 January 2021

IITA has been at the forefront of using information and communication technologies (ICTs) for research management and knowledge sharing, including extension, scaling out, e-learning, collaboration, and agricultural services enhancement.

Recently, ICTs have fast emerged as frontline tools for transforming agricultural systems in sub-Saharan Africa. Governments, developmental organizations, and the donor community are increasingly depending on ICTs to unleash the potential of rural economies and bridge agricultural value chains for enhanced profitability.

IITA focuses on integrated digital tools for accelerating agricultural transformation in sub-Saharan Africa
Communicator explaining the use of a digital tool to a farmer

According to Alfred Dixon, Director, Development and Delivery, “IITA believes that sharing and delivery of knowledge and products for adoption by intended end-users using digital platforms are critical to achieve research and development outcomes.” Dixon, along with Lava Kumar, leads the Working Group on Digital Delivery in IITA.

He further pointed out that the use of ICTs to facilitate awareness creation, promote behavioral change among knowledge users, e.g., farmers or processors, and facilitate the adoption of technologies could contribute to the success of delivery efforts.

IITA has used ICTs for precision agriculture, digitalization of the research process, knowledge sharing, and service delivery through tailor-made digital tools, data repositories, and web platforms. Many of these developments emanated from various R4D projects and were designed to fit the project purpose with scope for broader applications.

Two workshops held in late 2019 brought together IITA teams and collaborators to showcase various apps developed in IITA. They also introduced IITA-developed digital tools to extension workers, media, and collaborators working in the same digital space and agricultural solutions or topics. The workshops improved coordination and developed complementarity between and among ICT tool applications and users in the Institute. This led to practitioners establishing a working group that would develop the beginnings of a strategy on digital delivery and knowledge sharing for IITA.

Kumar said, “These workshops emphasized the need to integrate and coordinate such efforts as it provides IITA the leverage to showcase its expertise and experiences in this field, among several other benefits.”

A Working Group on Digital Delivery was thus formed to improve the coordination, collaboration, and communication among the various developers of ICTs currently in use for research, development, and delivery at IITA. This is expected to enhance synergy between the ICT applications, reduce redundancy, and expand the reach of digital delivery of solutions to farmers and end-users for increased impact.

In 2020, the Working Group undertook a survey to determine the available digital tools and the talent involved in the in-house development of such tools. This baseline survey on ICTs and mobile apps revealed the use of over 50 ICT applications developed in-house. High usage of ICTs by the IITA community is expected, but many of these developments were uncoordinated, resulting in some redundancies and poor awareness about the state of development and progress outside the project structure, underuse of high potential apps beyond the intended scope, and data fragmentation.

The Working Group also came up with a strategy document that outlines several elements to enhance delivery and knowledge sharing. The story highlighting IITA’s efforts in this area can be found on pages 80 to 83 on this link 2019 Annual Report.