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Sustainably digital
Innovative extension services for smallholding families


Improving productivity, income and climate resilience

A research and innovation project of the University of Bern plans to use digital agricultural extension services to promote the use of sustainable cultivation methods by smallholding families in Africa and Asia with the goal of improving their productivity, income and climate resilience. The project is being conducted together with international partners and receives funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).


While smallholders, or small-scale farmers, produce two thirds of all food worldwide, the majority of these approximately 500 million farmers lives in poverty. Their production is susceptible to the impacts of climate change. At the same time, they only have poor access to information on agricultural practices that could help them boost productivity, conserve resources and safeguard their livelihoods.

Digitally assisted agricultural extension services offer an opportunity to change this. To date, however, they have only reached a small fraction of smallholders in the Global South. Involving women and young people would be one way of achieving significant gains with respect to yields and improving living conditions: they account for more than half the population working in agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Digitale Lösungen helfen, Wissen unter Jung und Alt zu verbreiten.
Digital solutions help disseminate information to the young and old. (© Grameen Foundation)

Addressing women and young people in particular

To that end, the “Agripath” project is blazing new trails: “The goal of the project is to develop effective, efficient, and far-reaching extension services that engage as many smallholding families as possible, especially women and young people,” says Sonja Vogt, research affiliate at the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) of the University of Bern and professor at the University of Lausanne. “To achieve that goal, we’re developing technical innovations that foster changes in people’s attitudes and social norms related to agriculture.”

To achieve the broadest possible impact in favor of sustainable agriculture, all family members must be involved. That’s why it’s crucial to understand not only who in the household has access to a mobile phone and therefore the digital services, but also how agricultural decisions are made within the family. “In addition, we have a special focus on efficient, country- and context-specific dissemination of information on sustainable farming methods within local communities,” says Nicole Harari, project coordinator at the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) at the University of Bern.

Beginning with five countries on two continents and expanding worldwide

The project is aimed at 50,000 smallholding families in Burkina Faso, Uganda, Tanzania, India, and Nepal, as well as 250 private and state agricultural extension service providers. Scaling of the results in at least six other countries is factored in from the outset via a broad partner network comprising ministries of agriculture, NGOs, the private sector, and regional and international organizations to ensure that Agripath can make the broadest possible impact.  

Eine Bauernfamilie in Indien erhält ein Training im Umgang mit digitalen Tools.
A farming family in India receives training on how to use digital tools. (© © Grameen Foundation)


Lessons learned from Agripath will be made available in a toolkit for providers of digital extension services – both in the countries where the project is active and worldwide. Beyond that, the project consortium will provide long-term implementation and application support to digital providers. The Farmbetter app utilized and further developed for this research will be freely available for download.

Combining on-site extension services and digital solutions

The project will also provide new insights as to what type of extension services is most promising in which cases. Using a novel “mixed methods” approach, the project will combine digital data collection with field experiments and randomized controlled trials. This will make it possible to study the impacts of three variants on farmer behavior: a purely digital solution with an extension services app that farmers can use themselves; a model in which extension service providers use the app in their work with the farmers; as well as a hybrid model in which smallholders can use the digital extension services on their own and, when needed, gain access to technical extension services on-site. In addition, focus groups and a broad-based digital data collection for assessing attitudes and behavior will generate country-specific knowledge on gender and youth participation in sustainable farming. “That's central to the context-specific design of the digital extension tool and to its acceptance as a result,” stresses Nicole Harari.


Close collaboration between science and the real world

Agripath is a project being implemented by the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) together with Grameen Foundation USA, Grameen Foundation India, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology icipe, as well as Farmbetter Ltd. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) supports the project with five million Swiss francs in funding through the TRANSFORM program while the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), acting through the Fund for the Promotion of Innovation (i4Ag) and implemented by the German Agency for International Cooperation (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH; GIZ), provides nearly two million euros in funding. The project is based on close collaboration with Grameen Foundation agricultural advisors and the start-up Farmbetter Ltd, whose app provides application-oriented information on sustainable farming practices and promotes both climate resilience and productivity among smallholder farms in developing countries. The project was launched in 2021 and will continue until 2025.

Agripath project