Malawi, a landlocked country in southeastern Africa, heavily relies on agriculture, with over 80% of the population employed in the sector. But climate change and limited access to technology pose significant challenges for smallholder farmers in the country. To address this, IBM and Heifer International collaborated on OpenHarvest, a digital tool designed to empower farmers through technology and a community ecosystem.
Closing the Digital Divide with OpenHarvest
OpenHarvest is an open-source platform with a mobile application that provides access to visual agricultural data, AI-based recommendations, and improved farm and field management. The platform assigns latitude-longitude points to farmer’s fields, triggering personalized recommendations based on local weather and crop growth stages. It also monitors soil composition to optimize fertilizer application. By leveraging technology, OpenHarvest aims to bridge the digital divide and improve farming practices in Malawi.
A Low-Cost Solution with High Impact
Heifer International and IBM focused on developing an affordable tool with maximum output. They adopted a serverless architecture to minimize infrastructure costs and used IBM Cloud Code Engine to streamline deployment. As many farmers in Malawi do not own smartphones, the solution had to be accessible and affordable. The team implemented an SMS text message system to transmit precise crop and soil management recommendations to farmers.
Supporting Farmers with a Network of Experts
IBM Consulting played a crucial role in the pilot deployment, working alongside Heifer International’s community facilitators, volunteers from a local university, and smallholder farmers. The goal was not only to provide farmers with technology but also to offer support and expertise. Building trust and implementing solutions were key to empowering farmers and driving change.
Promoting Profitability and Resilience
In addition to climate change, smallholder farmers in Malawi face limited access to credit and competitive markets. To address this, OpenHarvest incentivizes farmers to adopt best agricultural practices and facilitates connections to finance and formal markets. By embracing digital technology and new farming practices, farmers can improve long-term profitability and adapt to a changing environment and economy.
Expanding Impact and Future Innovations
OpenHarvest has already benefited 200 users and about 1,000 direct beneficiaries in the Mchinji district. Heifer International plans to onboard 300 additional farmers and expand the project to Kasungu, another district in central Malawi. The program is also exploring other innovations, such as AI models and integrations, to further enhance the platform’s capabilities and impact.
Through the collaboration between IBM and Heifer International, Malawian farmers are gaining access to technology, expert support, and sustainable farming solutions. OpenHarvest is bridging the digital divide and empowering farmers to thrive in an evolving agricultural landscape.
IBM and Heifer International have collaborated on OpenHarvest, a digital tool aimed at empowering smallholder farmers in Malawi. The tool provides access to visual agricultural data, AI-based recommendations, and improved farm and field management. It bridges the digital divide by offering affordable and accessible solutions such as SMS text messages. By incentivizing the adoption of best practices and facilitating connections to finance and formal markets, OpenHarvest promotes long-term profitability and resilience for Malawian farmers. The project has already benefited 200 users and plans to expand further, leveraging AI and other innovations to enhance its impact.
What is OpenHarvest?
OpenHarvest is a digital tool developed by IBM and Heifer International to empower smallholder farmers in Malawi. It provides access to visual agricultural data, AI-based recommendations, and improved farm and field management.
How does OpenHarvest bridge the digital divide?
OpenHarvest offers affordable and accessible solutions, such as SMS text messages, to transmit crop and soil management recommendations to farmers who do not own smartphones. This allows farmers to overcome the limited access to technology and information they face.
What benefits do farmers gain from OpenHarvest?
Through OpenHarvest, farmers can optimize their farming practices based on hyperlocal weather forecasts, personalized recommendations, and soil composition data. The tool incentivizes adoption of best practices and facilitates connections to finance and formal markets, promoting long-term profitability and resilience.
How many farmers have benefited from OpenHarvest?
OpenHarvest has benefitted 200 users and about 1,000 direct beneficiaries in the Mchinji district of Malawi. The project plans to onboard 300 additional farmers and expand to other districts in the country.
What are future plans for OpenHarvest?
Heifer International plans to enhance OpenHarvest by leveraging AI models and integrations. The goal is to further improve the platform’s capabilities and impact. The project aims to empower more farmers and promote sustainable farming practices across Malawi.