FABI has partnered with Grain SA and Social Coding SA to engage smallholder farmers to connect with the Institute’s diagnostic clinic via its digital platform.

Technologies related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution have significant potential in supporting both large-scale and smallholder farmers to increase their productivity and competitiveness. The challenge, however, is to ensure that whilst we invest in developing new technologies, there is a focus on making the research results relevant, accessible and available to farmers, and deployable at farm level using, for example, hand-held devices and decision-support tools. Often technological tools are inaccessible to smallholder farmers in the country. Many “new” technologies are not so new, but perhaps are not as widely used due to constraints related to access, affordability, awareness, or slow adoption of technologies on a larger scale.

FABI and Grain SA have partnered to offer disease diagnostic services to grain farmers nationally. This includes specialist laboratory support for pathogen and pest identification, information sources, reference collections and expert knowledge. The FABI Diagnostic Clinic (which also serves other sectors of the forestry and agricultural industry) is supported by a central information system and phone app/website-based submission, management and communication system.

To ensure that the digital tools that are being developed for the diagnostic clinic is useful and accessible to smallholder farmers requires engagement with this community. The workshop on 24 March assessed basic knowledge, needs and management of diseases, as well as access to technology and logistics (e.g. package delivery services) to support the connection to the diagnostic clinic. This knowledge will now be used to adapt the system to the specific needs of these farmers. Part of the process includes language translation of key elements of the information.

This FABI and Innovation Africa @UP project is supported by a broad stakeholder and funding base, including Grain SA, Social Coding SA, Cropwatch Africa, Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), UNICEF and Future Africa. The broader diagnostic clinic and associated digital and information tools are supported by an even broader base that includes other government and industry partners in forestry and agriculture.

(Photos by Osmond Mlonyeni and Thembiso Magajana)