For the 2,000 farmers that comprise the Coopérative des Agriculteurs de Maïs de Nyanza (COAMANYA) maize cooperative in Rwanda, knowing precise information about their plots of land can be challenging. In a country as densely populated as Rwanda, where agriculture contributes to a third of GDP, many farmers must earn their livelihoods on a small piece of land averaging about an acre in size.
So how can basic information about an individual farmer’s plot help to grow his or her produce?
Charles Rubagumya is a maize farmer in Rwanda who recently mapped his plot of land using a new GPS technology. Determining the right amount of fertilizer to buy was previously a guessing game for Rubagumya, as he did not know the exact size of his field. But GPS – a technology which most Americans have on their cell phones or in their cars – can change all that.
“If I know the exact measurements of my land, I will know how much seed I will use and how much fertilizer I will apply,” says Rubagumya. “The monitoring of our plots will be easier, the crop yield will be measured as we will know the area under exploitation, and the volume of seed and other inputs to be used will be more exact.”
Knowing how impactful information about plot size can be, the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) teamed up with Milan Innovincy, an agriculture analysis company, to provide farmers in Rwanda with agricultural services and information technology – like GPS.
USADF, a Feed the Future partner, provides technical expertise and seed capital to support early-stage agribusinesses, such as a $250,000 investment to construct a COAMANYA maize milling factory. Milan Innovincy is a private sector partner that specializes in geospatial mapping and digital technologies to advance agricultural production. Together, they are partnering on a pilot project, a digital platform to help the cooperative’s farmers to grow healthy crops.
The digital platform helps farmers map the exact area of their land using GPS and satellite imagery, and is designed to be accessible and easy for farmers to input data. It is written in the local language, and a local extension worker for the project connects with farmers to track important agriculture and weather information. The platform also sends out localized SMS messages to farmers with planting tips based on data collected from their neighboring farmers.
With the data generated through this technology, farmers can predict exact information on the size of their land, average crop yields and expected sale revenues. They can use this data to negotiate better financing options from banks and market this information in advance to buyers, meaning greater stability for the cooperative.
Leonile Uwimana is a member of COAMANYA cooperative who hopes the new technology will assist in predicting flood patterns, too. “Floods destroy our plantations before the maize is ready to be picked,” Uwimana says. “With the right quantities of seeds, fertilizers and accurate weather information, the yields will improve and losses will decrease.”
So far, COAMANYA farmers have mapped more than 1,000 plots of land. And as Rwanda’s population – and number of smallholder farmers – continues to grow, innovations like GPS and the COAMANYA digital platform will equip farmers to make smart use of their farmland to support increased food security in the country.
The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) is an independent U.S. Government agency established by Congress to support and invest in African owned and led enterprises which improve lives and livelihoods in poor and vulnerable communities in Africa. USADF is a Feed the Future interagency partner.