Expanding Digital Agricultural Advisory Services through Localized Partnerships for Sustainable Adoption in BARDIBAS

आषाढ़ ११, २०८१  |  Bobin Thapa and Anamika Shah

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More than half of the working population of Nepal is involved in agriculture, but the census report 2021 shows that the average holding of each farmer is only around 0.55 ha. Most farms operate on a subsistence approach with large gaps against potential yields which can be due to lack of proper access to agri-advisory service systems. Farmers of Madhesh Pradesh or Province 2 are predominantly smallholder farmers relying heavily on agriculture to sustain their livelihood. The farmers in this region face a plethora of challenges ranging from the prevalence of persistent diseases and pests, to lack of fertilizer information, market access, and irrigation issues, among others. All of these issues have been majorly affecting their productivity. Climate change has further exacerbated these problems with issues like irregular rainfall, too much water too little water, excessive chemical use impacting the health of farmers, and the creation of a viable environment for the emergence of new agricultural pests and diseases. Access to the right information at the right time can help farmers mitigate the impact of such problems and enhance resilience against climate hazards.

GeoKrishi with its initiative of connecting and empowering farmers digitally all over Nepal, reached Bardibas and Mithila, two of the municipalities in Province 2, in September 2023. In partnership with ICIMOD and collaboration with local partner CDFAN, the primary goal of this initiative was to provide digital agricultural advisory service through the GeoKrishi Farm App and enable municipalities to monitor the status of their farmers through the GeoKrishi Web Enterprise. GeoKrishi partnered with multiple community-based organizations and cooperatives during the period and organized farm-level trainings on the GeoKrishi Farm app.

The initiation phase was a struggle for GeoKrishi, where the organization encountered many challenges in introducing and getting farmers to adopt these technologies. Technical challenges such as low digital literacy rates, language barriers, limited awareness, and farmers' distrust of an unknown organization such as GeoKrishi, lead to significant hesitancy among them in adopting GeoKrishi's product. Despite that, a great number of farmers were found to be regularly using the platform with a few also sending crop health queries regarding their standing crop. However, it is crucial to continue, addressing technical challenges and expand the service to other farmers of the municipality for sustainable adoption.

Despite the challenges, GeoKrishi was successful to organize Training of Trainers with the support of ICIMOD and CDAFN, for community facilitators in Bardibas Municipality, which enhanced the access to technology and digital literacy among the farmers of the partner cooperative. These digital champions were given the responsibility of organizing field level trainings for farmers to inform about the GeoKrishi Farm app, its benefits, and how to use the services embedded. 

More than 1000 farmers from Bardibas have been onboarded within the digital platform with their farm and production plan digitized. In addition, more than a hundred crop health-related queries have been received from the farmers within the region. Despite resource limitations, we were able to connect a substantial number of farmer representatives who actively use the platform to get agri-advisory services.

GeoKrishi realized that a collaborative effort (Public-Private partnership) with the local government could be instrumental in combating these digital challenges for the proper adoption of digital technologies in these areas. Thus, GeoKrishi collaborated with the municipal agriculture department to organize a training session for the farmers of Bardibas Municipality. The event caught the eye of the Municipal Agriculture Officer of Bardibas, who recognized the importance of GeoKrishi and their initiative in boosting agriculture advisory services. With the vision of collecting farmer data through "Kishan Suchikaran" and its use for sharing various agricultural information from the municipality, the agriculture officer suggested a partnership and expansion of GeoKrishi's services across Bardibas Municipality. This would allow farmers across the Bardibas area to receive relevant advisory services directly from agriculture experts digitally at their convenience without having to physically rely on local agro-vets or knowledge centres.