Using satellite data and digital services to transform agri-food systems in Burkina Faso

The transformative power of GARBAL is enabling farmers and herders to access critical information and market opportunities in real-time.

In today's rapidly evolving world, AI and digitalisation drive transformative change across multiple sectors, and agri-food systems are no exception. In countries like Burkina Faso, digital technologies and satellite data are having a lasting impact, revolutionising the way farmers and herders operate. At the forefront of this transformation is SNV, known for its innovative and adaptive approaches.

Building on the pioneering work of Catherine Le Come, Deputy Global Sector Head Agri-Food, on GARBAL, this blog explores SNV's ground-breaking contributions and highlights GARBAL's significant impact through the eyes of Honoré Zidouemba, the project manager who orchestrated its success in Burkina Faso.

The power of real-time data

Imagine a country where farmers and herders have real-time access to critical information and market opportunities through their simple mobile phones, enabling them to make informed decisions that improve their livelihoods. This is not just a vision, but a reality that SNV and its partners have been creating in Burkina Faso since 2015 through the innovative use of satellite data and digitisation technologies, with funding from the Dutch Government and Swiss Development Cooperation.

With a background as head of research and development at the Ministry of Animal Resources in Burkina Faso, and then as head of the ZEPESA project at the NGO VSF-B, at the National Chamber of Agriculture, Honoré's extensive network and deep understanding of community needs have been crucial in leveraging these technologies for food security. Honoré's involvement in promoting GARBAL included an intensive enrolment programme between the farmers' organisation and the Ministry of Animal Resources, ensuring that the benefits of satellite data reached those who needed it most. In total, 1,105,000 people, both men and women, were mobilised, including 46% women and 54% young people (male/female), exceeding the initial target of 750,000 people. The focus on inclusivity was deliberate to ensure that women and young people, who are often under-represented in technology adoption, could benefit from the service.

"Working closely with farmers' organizations and understanding their needs was essential. The success of GARBAL reflects the communities' trust in our partnership and the real impact of digital tools on agri-food systems," says Honoré.

Under Honoré's leadership, GARBAL has achieved remarkable results. The service now has over 260,000 unique users and has generated around 2 million calls. Notably, 93% of users reported making decisions based on the information they received and 91% expressed satisfaction with the service. The financial benefits are significant, with 41% of users experiencing an increase in income compared to non-users. In addition, 92% of agropastoral households using the service reported improved animal and crop productivity- learning brief

A far-reaching impact

But the real impact of GARBAL goes beyond these figures. The information provided by GARBAL is widely disseminated within communities, reaching many more people through informal networks. This community-driven approach ensures that even those who do not interact directly with the service benefit from its data-driven insights.

While official data may show a significant number of calls made by men who identify as farmers, the true impact of the GARBAL service extends far beyond these figures. In reality, the information provided by GARBAL is widely shared within households, social networks, and among pastoralist communities.'

Study on Community Circulation of Information.MODHEM project, March 2024

The study goes on the note that the “informal dissemination ensures that even those who do not directly interact with the service benefit from its insights, demonstrating a deep community integration and widespread appropriation of the service'" - Study on Community Circulation of Information, MODHEM project

The transformative power of GARBAL can be seen in the daily lives of its users. Sanou Sogo, a 52-year-old farmer from BarrénTérétouna/Bobo Diaoulasso, is an example of how GARBAL has revolutionised farming practices in Burkina Faso. Before GARBAL, Sanou struggled with unpredictable weather patterns and market uncertainties. Lack of reliable information often led to poor harvests and financial instability. But with the introduction of GARBAL, everything changed.

"Thanks to GARBAL, I can now plan my farming activities with confidence. Before, we worked blindly, but now we have reliable information that guides our decisions. It has truly changed our way of life. Above all, the advice I've received has given me the leverage I need to make my farm more profitable," says Sanou Sogo, a farmer and breeder under the MODHEM project.

Overcoming barriers with geo-ICT

Efforts to implement GARBAL in Burkina Faso faced significant technological challenges. The prioritisation of a robust call centre in several local languages, which favoured verbal communication, boosted service uptake. However, peak season demand caused significant call congestion. To address this, SNV and Orange Burkina Faso implemented an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, resulting in improved call management and user satisfaction. Ensuring the accuracy of geo-ICT services was another challenge. GARBAL successfully addressed this by integrating satellite data, information from local weather stations and government databases, with critical support from Hoefsloot Spatial Solutions (HSS) and the National Meteorological Agency (ANAM).

A vision for the future

The success of GARBAL in Burkina Faso demonstrates the significant impact of integrating digital tools and satellite data in the agri-food sector. By providing real-time, actionable information, SNV has effectively empowered farmers and herders to make informed decisions, thereby increasing their productivity and resilience. This initiative not only addresses immediate challenges but also serves as a cornerstone for sustainable development.

In addition, the expansion of GARBAL to include financial services will further empower smallholder farmers and pastoralists by providing them with the tools they need to thrive in an increasingly unpredictable environment. As SNV and its partners explore new avenues for funding and collaboration, the overarching vision is to foster a resilient, inclusive and prosperous agricultural landscape in Burkina Faso. With sustained innovation and support, the future holds great promise for agri-food systems and the communities that depend on them.

Join us on this journey as we contribute to impact at scale, resulting in more equitable lives for all.

Learn more about the MODHEM+ project