South-South Exchange on ICT4Ag — Indian Drones Meet African Tractor Apps

Twelve African countries, five days in India, one mission: Together with partners the ICT Working Group of the Green Innovation Centres explores digital technology for agriculture

The questions at the onset

  • What about blockchain? — Is it more of a hype or actually a technology essential for food traceability?
  • There are apps for smallholder farmers in Africa but could they also be pertinent in the Indian context?
  • We see 4G coverage and smartphones in many households of rural India. What can African partners learn from India’s impressive e-infrastructure?

These and many more questions were the focus of the Green Innovation Centre’s South-South knowledge exchange on information and communication technologies (ICT) in the agriculture and food sector. The outcome? — Fruitful discussions, valuable new business linkages and inspiring new ideas for digital solutions for field implementation.

In the hot afternoon sun next to a tomato field in Kadur, Southern India, Samuel from the Foundation for Environmental Monitoring demonstrates to 40 curious pairs of eyes how his digital innovation works. It is an app that measures soil parameters via spectrography. First, the dry soil is treated with chemical solutions from the foundation’s kit. Then the liquid will be screened using a smartphone camera and its flashlight. The the colour schemes of soil parameters such as nitrogen, pH or potassium are detected so that a farmer can learn on the spot about his or her field’s soil composition and can make informed decisions on adding lacking nutrients.

The advantages?

Using the app is cheaper and quicker than conventional soil testing. Results are available right there on the farm immediately. Bourehima Coulibaly, who represents the Malian start-up Satgrie, is impressed: “This technology would be also very useful in Mali. Farmers there are facing the same difficulties: Lab results are expensive, take a lot of time and they are often flawed.” 

India hosted its third South-South knowledge exchange for the Green Innovation Centres

End of January 2020, 35 participants from 12 African countries, including Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Togo, Tunisia and Zambia, benefitted from the five-day programme.

The goal of the exposure visit was to promote mutual learning amongst participants on digital solutions in the agriculture sector of the global South. Experts from the private sector, implementing partners, government officials, and GIZ staff from 12 African countries, Germany, and India actively contributed to the valuable discussions, networking and exchange of learning experiences.

“South-South knowledge exchanges like this bring together different important partners from various countries. It’s a unique opportunity to learn from each other, to build new networks and to transfer and up-scale innovative ideas and solutions between countries.”

Ariane Borgstedt, Head global project Green Innovation Centres for the Agriculture and Food Sector, GIZ Germany

The proceedings

Having enjoyed Bengaluru’s cultural and culinary highlights on the day before the official start, the programme of the five-day exchange guided participants through different phases — from the better understanding of complex theoretical concepts and important framework conditions to the practical day-to-day use of digital solutions and realities for farmers on the ground:

Day 1

Different individual and group exercises on the first day helped participants to understand the ICT landscape in India and triggered reflection on the framework conditions in the African sister countries. Controversial expert talks for example by th Shekru Foundation or the Mysuru Consulting Group on artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), Blockchain, digital payments for famers, data ownership and sustainability of digital tools gave food for thought about the existing risks and opportunities coming along with digitalisation.

African and Indian start-ups pitching their solutions

Day 2

One highlight of the week was the innovative start-up slam in a co-working space: Indian and African start-ups pitched their ICT solutions in three minutes followed by 20-minutes speed dating sessions. The pitches were clustered along the agricultural value chain — upstream, production, downstream – and both – African and Indian Start-ups – presented their technologies supporting the work of smallholder farmers and/or small and medium enterprises. The subsequent business-to-business rounds made detailed information exchange and networking possible. In a vote, the slam was won by the Ghanaian start-up TROTRO Tractor.

Day 3 and 4

How does the situation look like on the ground? What do farmers have to say about apps, algorithms and AI? Day three and four led to field visits to Kadur and Hassan. Here, implemented ICT solutions within the Green Innovation Centre India along the tomato and the potato value chain were demonstrated to the African delegation.

The start-ups that were present

Business area Start-up Country
One-stop solution for inputs Gramophone India
Digital food distribution platform AgroCenta Ghana
Decision-making tool Viamo Burkina Faso
Sensors and satellite images for soil requirements Satgrie Mali
Online irrigation platform based on IoT, artificial intelligence and machine learning Smart Soft Pro Tunisia
Farmer advisory services, supply chain management, traceability, certification, monitoring and evaluation, market linkage and financial services SourceTrace Systems India
Decision-making tools CropIn India
Precision irrigation system Ezzayra Tunisia
Matching quality to specifications using image analysis and AI IntelloLabs India
Software platforms for agricultural extension Tene-AG India
Customised smart irrigation solution using AI & IoT CultYvate India
Training frontlines workers, connecting farmers to markets Digital Green India
SMS platform and voice messaging to disseminate information Esoko Ghana
Smart irrigation solution Seabex Tunisia
Business process management, accounting, inventory and asset management Karabi Software India
End-to-end dairy technology solutions company Stellapp India
On-farm cold storage Ecozen India
Platform for instant quality assessment and traceability linkages AgNext India
Digital platform for tractors and other agricultural machinery services TROTRO Tractor India
Digital data collection system, web and mobile platform for publishing offers and requests for agricultural products E-Agribusiness Togo
Traceability solutions along the value chain TraceX India
End-to-end spraying solutions using drones, IoTs and Blockchain Skycrafts Aerospace India
Linking farmers to retailers for better market prices AgroWave India

I thought this was going to be one of the usual talk shops where we discuss the obvious. But the GIZ ICT Study Tour turned out to be very insightful for me. Learnt a lot from seeing how India uses technology in agriculture. Given that we have similar problems, these are lessons that could be applied, though not in their entirety. I’ve got some ideas now on where to introduce some elements of IoT in our platform.

Michael Ocansey, AgroCenta, Ghana
irrigation system

Demonstrating the precision irrigation system

One example was FarmHand’s precision irrigation system “Water-Hand”. This technology — controlled via a smartphone application — delivers the right volume of water at the right time according to the crop’s lifecycle, local weather and soil conditions. Benefits for the farmers are the increase in yield, saving of water and energy and the decrease in fertiliser and labour costs.

Demonstrating the Smart Farming App

A second innovative solution is the Smart Farming App for potato cultivation. Farmers first feed the app with information about to their specific field and then receive advice customized daily. For example on pest and disease management or irrigation incorporating weather forecasting, all in local languages.

Intelligent potato “SolAntenna”

The  intelligent potato “SolAntenna” third example, invented by Solentum. It senses temperature, humidity, CO2 and GPS location in realtime. It can be placed among potatoes during the entire transportation cycle to monitor and improve the respective parameters.

Exchange between farmers and the delegation

Besides the presentation of practical tools, participants also had the opportunity to talk to the farmers and get insights in their day-to-day work with the new technologies.  “What convinced you to use the new IT technologies?”, “What is the main communication channel between you and other farmers?” “How many women in your household own a smartphone”, “Are digital solutions an incentive for the youth to get engaged in agriculture?” These were some of the questions answered by the Indian farmers to the African delegation.

Day 5

Sharing key takeaways with the Consul General (left)

The last day in Bengaluru was used for a reflection on key learnings and takeaways of the event. The German Consul General Margit Hellwig-Bötte commended the knowledge exchange in her closing remarks, thereby highlighting that the event proved that agriculture could be a young, dynamic and modern sector, which motivated participants to bring about innovative change in their home countries.

’The event was good and important. It has enlightened me on some digital solutions which will help me in my work and that of my colleagues’’

Olive Masaka, Farmers World, Malawi

The outcomes

Handing over of the soil testing kit from Samuel from the Indian start-up Foundation for Environmental Monitoring to the Malian entrepreneur Bourehima Coulibaly

Already during the study tour potential collaborations were explored and contacts were exchanged between participants who are eager to transfer and adapt certain solutions to their home countries’ specific contexts.

Group picture with certificates at the end of the study tour


  • The “ConseilCaféCacao” from Côte d’Ivoire expressed their interest to collaborate with the Indian start-ups “IntelloLabs” and “CropIn” to tailor their solutions to the coffee and cocoa value chain.
  • Tunisia decided to work on ecosystem for start-ups similar to the one they have seen in Bengaluru in order to create incentives for investors to support innovations.
  • Kenya showed interest in the Ghanaian machine rental app TROTRO Tractor.
  • The Indian start-up TraceX on traceability along the value chain connected to Mozambique.
  • Furthermore, the GFA consulting group is in negotiation with the Indian start-up Ecozen solutions about bringing their solar pumps to Togo.
  • Amongst the “B2B” linkages is also Bourehima Coulibaly from Mali. Convinced with the demonstration of FFEM Foundation’s soil testing kit he and delegation members from Ghana and Zambia purchased it directly from Samuel, planning to do soil tests for and with smallholder farmers in Mali.

Video on the activity

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The authors

The copy has been provided by Judith Wassmann, intern, and Julia Jung, Advisor at the Green Innovation Centres in India and Christian Schulze-Koch, Advisor at the Green Innovation Centres in Germany. He is also coordinator of the ICT Working Group.

For questions on the event, you can contact Christian at  or Julia at