From 2019 until 2022, together with the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC) in Uganda, a consortium of public and private organisations carried out a pilot study to build a national cooperative database to professionalise farmer cooperatives. It is the first digital database of co-ops, and it will serve as a common resource for shared gain or private benefit. Data on business and financial management, service delivery and organisation governance was collected and fed into a national database, which was launched in 2022. But what can we learn from all this, and can we consider the national database a success? Find out in this article summarising a case study of the project included in the report “Farmer-Centric Data Governance: Towards a New Paradigm”.
Farmer co-ops and organisations are essential players in agriculture and for the livelihoods of farmers. Added value can be created and shared between buyers and farmers and is essential for successful collaboration and a thriving sector. However, what is regularly missing is structured organisation in the way stakeholders work with farmer organisations. This results in a lot of replications, wasted resources and sometimes misinformation. Detailed data is rarely available, often incomplete, not easily comparable or of low quality. Moreover, farmer organisations often have their data extracted rather than owning and using it for their development. This lack of data also makes it difficult for the private sector to really understand farmers’ needs – even if they want to help, they just do not have enough information. And the lack of clear and transparent sharing policies does not make it any easier.
Another big problem is so-called “farmer fatigue”. Farmers have been or are asked multiple times by different organisations to share the same data, and after a while they become reluctant to share it over and over again. This results in farmers seeing very little value in the process and inaccurate data. It is also difficult to reach farmers in rural or remote areas and, because of that, a sizeable number of farmers are not represented. Lastly, the value of data is often not visible enough to outweigh the collection costs.
We are Rikolto Consult - experts in sustainable agri-food systems and always on the look-out for new ways of collaboration and systemic solutions.
In 2020, Rikolto joined forces with the Agribusiness Market Ecosystem Alliance (AMEA) Global, SCOPEinsight, the National Alliance of Agricultural Co-operatives (NAAC) in Uganda, and Agriterra. Together, they formed a consortium to build a system that accelerates the professionalism of farmer organisations instead of loosely coordinated projects.
One national database could be the key to solving these problems. Such a data-driven, standardised approach helps accelerate professionalism and participation in the market. After all, data ownership and control are critical to empower farmers and farmer organisations – it is relevant for all levels of development of farmer organisations. And most importantly: all assumptions made will be data evidence-based.
However, while the use of data holds much potential to strengthen the agricultural sector, farmer capacity and data governance challenges raise the possibility that farmers will not benefit economically from their own data. After all, the financial viability and sustainability of the database is based on the willingness of members and partners to collaborate and to co-finance the activities.
“It is safe to say that the pilot project, which ran for three years, has allowed us to learn many useful things about the idea of a national database, and how it could be helpful,” explains Peter Businda, project coordinator of Rikolto in Uganda.
During the project, Rikolto accompanied farmer organisations in an organisational capacity analysis to jointly identify challenges regarding their level of professionalism and their capacity to engage in sustainable businesses. "Through the SCOPEinsight assessment tool, we evaluated the maturity of 216 farmer organisations’ management capabilities with regard to internal and financial management, sustainability, operations, production base, markets, external risks and an enabling environment. All this allowed us to support the professionalisation of the farmer organisations."
There remain, however, a few things we need to keep in mind when looking at the future.
First of all, the question whether cooperatives should collect their own data is an ongoing debate within the Consortium. On the one hand, there would be a substantial risk of exaggerating and distorting data if co-ops performed self-assessments. On the other hand, the cost of independent assessments is high, and perhaps they would have greater ownership of their data if they did conduct the assessments themselves.
Secondly, AMEA (Agribusiness Market Ecosystem Alliance) wants to ensure that the data collection process is using technology that enables farmers and co-ops to easily access and use their data. Adopting new tech clearly provides an opportunity for farmers; however, the challenges it brings with it cannot be underestimated.
"Once the trust is guaranteed among the farmer organisations’ members, collecting information from them will become straightforward. As long as we demonstrate added value for what is being addressed. "
For now, the database is more of a collaborative data governance approach, aiming to help actors understand the value of harnessing the power of data, create a sense of empowerment and establish negotiating power and an agency for farmer organisations. More research is needed, but one of the most important things will be to foster trust with farmers throughout the data lifecycle and to communicate everything in a manner that is accessible to them. “Once the trust is guaranteed among the farmer organisations’ members, collecting information from them will become easy provided you demonstrate added value for what is being addressed,” says Peter. The more data we can collect, the more accurate this national cooperative database will be, and the better farmer organisations and farmers can participate in the market. There is still a lot of work to do, but we keep on learning and getting there!
More detailed information can be found in the case study and full report developed by Development Gateway.
Article written by Chloé Van Uytven - Communication intern at Rikolto.
Chloé recently graduated as a translator, but is also a strong (copy)writer. She is passionate about topics related to sustainability, the environment and human rights, and has written quite a few things on these subjects. Want to reach her? Send her a message on LinkedIn!