Unlocking the productivity of smallholder poultry farming in Nigeria: The role of farm-level data in Farmspeak’s tailored advisory services

Digital advisory services have the potential to improve the productivity of smallholder farmers, enhancing their revenues, food security, and livelihoods. Drawing on farm-level data, in particular, allows these services to provide highly personalised and actionable advice to farmers.

Farmspeak Technology Limited is a Nigerian agritech leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), remote sensing, and Internet of Things (IoT) technology in addition to farmer and farm-specific data to tailor advisory messages targeting commercial poultry farmers in a bid to stem bird mortality and improve productivity. Farmspeak’s intervention is timely as Nigerian farmers work towards bridging the gap in demand for chicken eggs and meat and building sustainable poultry enterprises.

This blog explores Farmspeak’s innovative solutions for transforming poultry farming in Nigeria. It further examines the company’s challenges in driving adoption and discusses the service’s ongoing refinements to ensure widespread uptake among Nigerian poultry farmers.

Challenges in the poultry sector in Nigeria

The poultry sector in Nigeria comprises 85 million people actively involved in poultry farming caring for an estimated 180 million birds, most of them on a small to medium scale. Despite having the largest annual egg production and second-largest chicken population in Africa, Nigerian farmers are unable to meet the local demand for poultry and poultry products. The gap is estimated to be a staggering 70%. With the country’s population expected to double from 200 million people in 2019 to over 400 million people in 2050, the deficit is likely to worsen unless significant productivity improvements are achieved.

The low productivity in Nigeria’s poultry sector can be attributed to several challenges. High feed costs, disease outbreaks, poor management practices, inadequate nutrition, and adverse weather conditions resulting in high mortality rates, all contribute to the problem. Many of these challenges could be mitigated through increased innovation in the poultry industry, coupled with tailored and targeted agricultural advice specifically designed to address individual poultry farmers’ needs.

Farmspeak leverages AI and IoT technology to improve poultry farmers’ productivity

Farmspeak aims to empower farmers, promote sustainability, and drive positive social and environmental change through innovation in the poultry sector. The founders, who come from smallholder poultry farming families, have developed a suite of tailored solutions digitising farm management. Smart devices and sensors allow round-the-clock monitoring of chicken pens, enabling quick and informed decisions that enhance efficiency and productivity.

Farmspeak’s offering revolves around two main solutions:

  • PenKeep, an electric or solar-powered IoT device, gives farmers visibility and control over the microclimate (temperature and relative humidity, air quality, water level, and water temperature) in the pen house to help reduce poultry mortality.
  • FS Manager, a farm management software, provides farmers with pen-specific data and insights to inform key decisions within the farm. The solution allows the farmer to digitally record and track relevant farm-related information, including bird inventory, feed and water intake, bird weights, medication, and vaccination logs, mortality and culling records, as well as expenses and sales transactions. Once relevant farm-related data is keyed into the system, FS Manager can leverage advanced analytics to precisely predict and monitor poultry productivity, aid in planning future production cycles, and generate financial and production reports for farmers.

Farmspeak’s PenKeep solution (left); Farmspeak’s FS manager (right)

FS Manager is available through an app on which farmers can keep their farm records. The app continuously collates and analyses this data to generate farm-specific insights tailored to each farmer’s operations. These insights are displayed on an intuitive dashboard within the FS Manager app and aim to drive increased farm productivity and profitability. Some of the key insights provided include feed conversion ratios, bird growth, and weight curves, detailed bird mortality analyses (including comparisons across production cycles), immunization and feed recommendations based on production stages, and real-time poultry market price information for buying and selling birds and eggs.

The accuracy and relevance of these farm-specific advisory services are based on the quality and consistency of data keyed in by farmers on a daily, weekly, or ad-hoc basis. FS Manager seamlessly integrates with PenKeep, promptly alerting farmers on their mobile phones whenever adjustments to pen microclimate conditions are required.

Using these solutions, farmers can streamline record-keeping, access tailored insights, and make data-driven decisions to optimize their poultry farming operations, ultimately enhancing productivity and profitability.

Scaling issues

While Farmspeak’s innovative solutions have the potential to be game changers for poultry farmers in Nigeria, the company faced low user engagement, specifically with data entry. To address this challenge, Farmspeak and the GSMA AgriTech Accelerator conducted user experience (UX) research, which unveiled several key barriers hindering farmers from actively using the app. These included:

  • Data security and privacy: Farmers expressed concerns about potential data breaches and unauthorised access and use of their personal data.
  • Data fields: A lot of information needs to be entered into the application on a daily and weekly basis, such as details about the weight and type of feed given to the chickens, the quantity of water provided, the number, colour, size, and quantity of eggs collected, the weight of the birds and eggs, etc. This tends to increase the workload of the producers, who are not accustomed to tracking their production in such detail.
  • Digital literacy: Limited digital skills and technical know-how among some farmers and their farm assistants also lead to limited utilisation of the FS Manager app. Some farmers indicated that the app was too complicated for them.
  • Connectivity and costs: Poor internet connectivity at farm locations, coupled with data costs incurred when accessing the app, hamper consistent data entry for some farmers.
  • Farm infrastructure: Optimising the benefits of AI-powered technologies like FS Manager may require guidance on appropriate farm infrastructure design, such as pen layout and power availability, adding complexity to farmers.
  • Alternative advisory channels: Farmspeak’s separate Q&A sessions on WhatsApp, which provide free advisory services, may diminish the perceived value proposition of subscribing to the FS Manager app.

Incentivising farm-level data entry to scale up advisory services

Recognising the critical importance of consistent farm data entry for delivering tailored advisory services, Farmspeak has embarked on a strategic journey to address the identified challenges with the support of the GSMA AgriTech Accelerator. Through a series of targeted technical assistance initiatives, Farmspeak is actively refining the FS Manager app to improve data entry rates, and adjusting product marketing strategies, including farmer engagement and capacity-building efforts.

Adaeze Akpagbula, Co-founder of Farmspeak, during the product refinement workshop.

Key product adjustments include simplifying the app interface to enhance usability, separating production-related data from farm financials to address privacy concerns, and incorporating sufficient nudges and incentives to encourage farmers to consistently record the required data.

Farmspeak is also piloting alternative pricing models for its solutions, ensuring they can appeal to and attract a broader base of farmers across the country. Finally, the Accelerator programme is supporting Farmspeak in brokering partnerships with key value chain players, including poultry farmer associations, feed manufacturers, and chick-selling companies. These collaborations aim to jointly advocate for the documentation of farm records, fostering an ecosystem-wide appreciation for the value of data-driven decision-making in poultry farming.

Conclusion

Data-driven advisory solutions, such as FS Manager, are only as effective as the quality and availability of the data used to generate predictions. A significant challenge lies in the fact that many farmers struggle to consistently maintain farm records, let alone use digital solutions to capture this data. It is therefore crucial to ensure that the FS Manager app is designed with simplicity and user-friendliness at its core. Farmspeak should also forge strategic partnerships with relevant value chain actors and actively champion the importance of data collection among poultry farmers.

As the Accelerator approaches the conclusion of its first year of collaboration with Farmspeak, there is a growing sense of excitement and anticipation surrounding the potential impact of the refined FS Manager solution for poultry farmers. By addressing the challenges of data collection and user adoption through continuous improvement, Farmspeak can unlock the full potential of data-driven advisory services and drive meaningful, sustainable impact for smallholder poultry farmers.


The GSMA AgriTech Accelerator is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and supported by the GSMA and its members.