On September 28, the Feed the Future Ghana Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement (ADVANCE) project, implemented by ACDI/VOCA in Ghana was one of five USAID projects to be honored with a Digital Development Award (“Digi”) during Global Innovation Week, a week of events celebrating breakthrough innovations in international development.
Out of the 125 projects that applied, the USAID ADVANCE project won for its use of smartcard technology among farmers in Ghana. Dr. Nirinjaka Ramasinjatovo, the former deputy chief of party for the project and a current senior director at ACDI/VOCA, accepted the award in front of leading innovators and industry experts.
The “Digis” recognize USAID projects that apply a digital technology and data-driven approach to achieve their development goals. In Ghana, this meant providing farmers with smartcards that stored data and information using ACDI/VOCA’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Reporting & Learning system.
Before the smartcards, low literacy rates in northern Ghana and the traditional use of family names without first names made it difficult to track participants using pen and paper or monitor the effectiveness of trainings. Without reliable data, the project team couldn’t determine if crop yields had improved because of trainings.
Each training participant received a locally-sourced smartcard with their photograph, identification number, and a chip to store their private data and information. For many participants, it was the first form of personal identification they had ever received.
This low-tech tool made the project more effective, without requiring participants to develop new, digital skills. The team could measure the impact of its interventions and make decisions in real time on how to adapt them. When the team discovered women were underrepresented in trainings, for example, they added more trainings tailored to women.
The data sets allowed the team to create stratified sampling and control for variables among farmers, such as the types of crops grown or family size. Statistical analysis of the data allowed the team to prove that trainings had an impact on crop yields, showing that farmers applied the agronomic practices they learned to improve their crops’ productivity. Female maize farmers who took part in trainings and then started planting their crops in rows had 30 percent higher yields than their non-trained counterparts.
“In over 40 years implementing agricultural projects, this is the first instance I’ve found with such robust data that a causal relationship can be proven for rural agricultural activities.” –Paul Guenette, chief communications officer for ACDI/VOCA.
To date, the USAID ADVANCE project has tracked over 120,000 people who participated in over 5,000 trainings using smartcards. The project also identified and trained nearly 400 outgrower businesses. These businesses gave entrepreneurs the chance to not only sell needed inputs to local farmers, but also coach them on best practices to improve their productivity. As points of aggregation, these same outgrower businesses bought and processed farmers’ yields and sold those yields in bulk to wholesalers, helping farmers and themselves earn more. Because the data collected by the smartcards indicated increases or decreases in yields, the project provided valuable information to commercial buyers, further strengthening the value chain.
USAID will be making a video of the USAID ADVANCE project’s innovation in action—coming soon!