Real-time Agriculture Data for COVID-19 Response in Kenya: Lessons to build the case for more and better financing for agriculture data
In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an existing food insecurity crisis in Kenya by limiting the free movement of people and goods locally and internationally. The immediacy of lockdown protocols to curb the spread of the pandemic also meant limiting the regular flow of and access to food. However, to understand the extent of the crisis, policymakers needed to know how much food was available and where in a timely manner. Continue reading or view the full PDF case study here.
A team of data experts comprising government and non-government volunteers came together to co-create data driven solutions that enabled the Ministry of Agriculture to have access to reliable and accurate data on the availability of food staples in all the 47 counties. The team rapidly configured ESRI’s custom off the shelf technology and deployed a mobile-based survey (Food Staples Survey) to collect data on available food stocks from stockists, farmers, traders, aggregators, and other agricultural food operators across all of Kenya. Once collected, the data was aggregated in a Food Staples Dashboard, available to members of the Food Security War Room (FSWR), the Ministry of Agriculture, the Agriculture Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP II) staff as well as members of the public. This led to the development and dissemination of concrete and actionable food availability guidelines that were rolled out across the country.
This exercise provoked thought and reflection on how government can and should coordinate data collection, access and sharing across the agriculture ecosystem and truly transform the agriculture sector.
Two core issues stood out:
- Transforming the access to agriculture data needs better coordination and lesson sharing. This helps to embed a data driven approach and build a culture of data production and use.
- Transforming access to agriculture data needs more and improved financing, especially through domestic government funding. This is a key ingredient to allow prioritized investment in foundational/core systems to allow building of innovative solutions.
Leveraging existing systems for innovation
Kenya’s Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS) 2019-2029 commits to ensuring that agriculture data is available, usable, timely, and interoperable. It recognizes the importance of having both traditional data such as censuses and surveys in addition to other innovative data sources.
The need was further exacerbated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The government needed to make decisions in real time and needed accurate, reliable and timely data for these decisions. With a reliable network of stakeholders and existing partnerships in the agriculture sector, the government looked to existing systems, institutions, and networks to mobilize action.
The FSWR was established to rapidly support Kenya’s COVID-19 response, and ensure that despite the pandemic, three key objectives (all guided by reliable and timely data) were met:
- Ensure the availability, accessibility and affordability of food and water (e.g., maintain flow of produce to markets including imports, minimize disruptions to market operations, and monitor price volatility of food)
- Support subsistence farmers, livestock farmers and fisherfolk (e.g., maintain availability and affordability of inputs, mitigate impact of the locust invasion)
- Maintain agricultural output and value addition (e.g., support operations of large farms and processors, and limit disruptions to markets including for export)
To propel the FSWR, stakeholders in the agriculture sector organized themselves and created a forum for experts to brainstorm and advise the government on the most appropriate solutions. From the onset, there was concurrence that the country did not have reliable information on available food stocks. While the national government and counties (sub-national governments) collect information on the food balance sheet on a regular basis through the Digital Food Balance sheet data on the food balance sheet across the East African region is viewed as unreliable - yet a large proportion of the population is constantly food insecure.
The FSWR posited that accessing information on the current food stocks would be their number one priority to guide their decision making.
A resilient system: A key success factor
The overall factor that led to the success of this exercise was the resilience and readiness of the Ministry of Agriculture Livestock Fisheries and Cooperatives (MoALFC). The use of existing mechanisms meant that these could be deployed at short notice using systems that are stable and robust, and players who were able to work in a coordinated effort.
- The Agriculture Sector Development Support Programme II (ASDSP II) provided an existing mechanism for mobilizing and coordinating value-chain actors at the county level, and submitting the data verified by County Government officials to the National Government. With the programme already in operation in all 47 counties, there were resources (human and financial) to deploy this work, with a well-established mechanism for sharing information between the national and sub-national governments and with key stakeholders.
- ESRI already had existing solutions for data management, data visualization through dashboards as well as data collection through the ArcGIS for Survey123 app that were possible to configure in a short timeframe. Together with the support of other players, and as part of its COVID19 disaster response program, ESRI was able to offer free licenses to the government to enable this exercise. The choice of a geospatial platform would enable understanding location differences and also signifies that this solution can be used in future and can be regularized.
- MoAFLC had an existing relationship with ESRI making mobilization easier.
- There was a ‘ready’ network of stakeholders who were able to provide technical and practical support to ensure this worked. Key industry leaders were convened on a WhatsApp group (the Joint Agriculture Action Group-JAAG), where daily progress was monitored and specific organizations called upon to provide technical and other kinds of support.
To enable timely data collection in all the 47 counties, a team to execute this assignment was availed by the ASDSP II. This program’s Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) officers, who are present in all the counties and have existing national coordination mechanisms as well as solid linkages with the county governments, were engaged. The data was to be used in designing strategies to support the efforts of the FSWR during COVID-19 and to guide ASDSP II in their subsequent projects.
The M&E officers and programme coordinators were virtually trained by ESRI on the mechanisms of implementation of the survey. These M&E officers identified their enumerators at the county level and trained them virtually too.
Data collection exercise commenced on 4th May 2020 and ended on 25th June 2020. In less than two months, data on the availability and pricing of food staples was available for the entire country.
I wish to thank the ASDSP II team for the dedication and support for this initiative. This is going to be a major learning curve in the efforts towards improving agricultural data collection. The success of this initiative will inform the beginning of real time national and county data collection and reporting. Let's all document observation and lessons for further use. - MoALFC
For the full table of key players and organizations that supported this process, see the PDF download below.
What did the data show?
A total of 26,134 respondents were reached during the survey over the two months. On average, each county collected information from 556 respondents. All the data was collected and aggregated in a Food Staples Dashboard, which provides analytics by staple, quantity, price, and the location and geographic distribution of the produce.
From figures 2 and 3, the prices of some staples changed significantly in the two months. For example, the price of maize, rice, and green grams rose significantly indicating a high demand for these products. Given that households were feeling the effects of the pandemic on the economy, these staples were becoming popular as they were affordable, but this was also affecting its supply and prices.
A snapshot of two counties as shown in figures 4 and 5 also provides sub-national situation analysis on food availability and pricing. In Nairobi for example, in the capital city, food was readily available. In Nandi county, food prices were quite fair compared to available quantities. While it may not be possible to compare across counties because of context specific differences, these sub-national snapshots guided the decision makers at the county level.
Impact: Decisions made using the data
I. Guidelines on Food Availability and Food Prices:
With the up-to date data collected, the Ministry of Agriculture was able to develop guidelines on food availability and food prices that were rolled out across the country. The guidelines provided protocols for managing food availability and guidance on the recommended food prices for the various commodities. Among other things, the protocols included:
- Encouraging County Governments to continuously sensitize workforce on the need to sustain food supplies in various markets on COVID-19 to prevent panic and enable them to perform market functions in the long run.
- Suspension of market access charges for three months to cushion food stockists.
- Encouraging food suppliers to adopt e-commerce to minimize contact and to allow households in urban areas to access food.
- As an early warning mechanism, food distributors were encouraged to share with the government any price volatility or food rationing.
II. Improving Two-Way Communication between the Government and the Public:
- With accurate data, the Ministry was able to frequently equip the media with accurate information and detailed analysis to inform the public on the availability and access of food, agricultural services and commodities. This was crucial in minimizing speculation and public misinformation as specific bottlenecks to the food-system were openly highlighted, alongside respective actions undertaken by both levels of Government. The public was also updated when problems were solved (e.g., re-opening of markets, reduction of food prices);
- A Food Security Hotline to respond to urgent enquiries from stakeholder and members of the public was set up. In the initial days, most calls to the hotline raised concerns over access to market during the lock-down of the Capital, Nairobi and its neighboring Counties, and Mombasa in the Coast, by farmers and agricultural vendors and to report on problem areas that needed the attention of the FSWR (e.g., corruption by traffic police, misinterpretation of COVID-19 agricultural markets’ guidelines and protocols etc.);
- The private sector and other key stakeholders had an opportunity to query data (specifically data on food quantities and prices) and to raise concerns where there was doubt through the FSWR weekly meetings. These were addressed by both national and county government officials;
- Avenues for leveraging resources were identified by development partners, who made efforts to adjust/align programme budgets to address food system issues highlighted in the weekly reports. For instance, the World Bank projects joined the ASDSP II to support data collection efforts and verification efforts in counties, enabling the food balance sheet to cover more value chains;
- The One-Million Kitchen Gardens Campaign was launched to address the shortage of fruits and vegetables in urban areas. This Government-led campaign was designed to educate the public on the importance of maintaining a balanced diet during the COVID-19 pandemic and on inexpensive methods of producing and preserving vitamin-rich foods in their homes.
III. Data was used by County War Rooms to determine areas of food deficit and surplus, and trigger distribution of relief food.
IV. Extension Staff used the data to determine and inform value chain actors on opportunities for trade.
V. The success of the system has informed programme and projects on areas to consider on market information, key in point, Kenya Cereal Enhancement Programme Climate Resilient Agricultural Livelihoods Window (KCEP-CRAL) and the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP) which have now developed comprehensive data systems within their scopes.
“By August 2020, ~185 issues directed to the hotline (0800 724 891) have been resolved.”- FSWR August 2020 Bulletin
The data enabled us to know that there is a great disparity between national and county governments, and we are able to know what exactly the challenges were. For example, availability of enumerators, devices to collect information and digital tools for collection of data. - MoALFC
For ASDSP II, who were instrumental in the delivery of this activity, this data was instrumental in planning the next phase of their project.
This was a great opportunity for the programme to be entrusted by the Ministry to collect and share data on available surplus food stocks in all the 47 counties during this COVID19 pandemic period and beyond. This enabled us to harness the capacity and experience among various actors to collaboratively collect and share data in real time between the National Government and County Governments” - ASDSP II
What next: Transformations for strengthening agriculture data post-COVID-19
The food staples survey demonstrated some key lessons for government and other agriculture stakeholders. It enabled government to re-think how data can and should underpin agriculture transformation and what it would take to do this.
Transforming agriculture data through better coordination and lesson sharing
This exercise initiated a conversation on how the country can truly transform the agriculture sector’s data systems and the importance of a geospatial infrastructure. This should inform the government for the years to come, as it works to align and strengthen its data systems and transform the Agriculture sector, and to realize the goals outlined in the 10-year ASTGS. The MoAFLC is keen to sustain these lessons, but importantly, to consolidate and map all the efforts on agriculture data so that this is coordinated and allows for better partnerships and build a data-use and share culture among stakeholders. This is a role that the ATO - under Flagship 8 of the ASTGS - is mandated to lead on.
The ATO is keen to consolidate all the lessons learned from previous interventions so that it moves beyond the implementer and the donor and become meaningful and accessible to everyone in the agriculture data ecosystem. - MoALFC
The FSWR has now transitioned to a Food Security Monitoring Committee (as envisaged in the ASTGS) to ensure continuous surveillance on food affordability, accessibility, and availability. This requires appropriate funding and policies, and the momentum needs to carry on beyond COVID-19. The Government needs to be able to sustainably support its ministries, departments, and agencies to collect and use data and information for decision making by investing in domestic finances for data. Sustaining these activities requires a mix of skills, culture shift, resilience, and adaptive capacity (i.e. agility to work with multiple stakeholders, strong internal systems that can accommodate the influx of tech and data tools and solutions particularly during a crisis), to create an enabling environment that fosters partnerships to strengthen the access and use of correct and timely data in the sector.
The digital food balance sheet was initially collecting information on maize, now the Ministry is keen to expand to other 12 value chains across 256 markets in the country through the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP) Market Information App. We need to be able to make sure that this is managed and sustained. - MoALFC
Transforming agriculture data needs more and better financing
The Government through the ATO is committed to building and consolidating digital tools and building skills as it moves into operationalizing the ASTGS. While the challenges exist, the government understands that for more and better resources to be channeled to agriculture data, government structures and policies would need a re-think. For example, current financing to Ministry of Agriculture should have a dedicated line item for agriculture statistics. In addition, more and better funding should be channeled to traditional data such as surveys and censuses as they would form the foundation for innovation and digital tools.
Innovative methods of financing need to be explored such as index insurance, public private partnerships to allow for through-flow of innovations to and within government and realigning of domestic budgets towards creating a robust digitally enabled workplace.
The bottom line about data for the agricultural sector is having a structured and sustainable funding approach to meet the need for data collection, analysis and sharing. Data is a social good. The challenge is for the Government to make this a national priority with a long-term view to having a structured approach to data management, while at the same time engage donors for short-term seed funding for capacity building, systems development, etc. - MoALFC
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the data revolution globally, and Kenya’s agriculture sector was not left behind. As governments needed accurate, real time information to make decisions about people’s livelihoods, the government of Kenya was able to take advantage of existing mechanisms, solutions and networks, to generate and use data for decision making on food security. This demonstrated a resilient system, but it also posed as a learning point for the government.
To truly transform the sector’s data needs will require deliberate action. Two ingredients are key: better coordination of the players and systems in the country and more and better financing for agriculture data.
As the country moves into the post-COVID-19 era, measuring the impact of these lessons would be important. The Ministry of Agriculture understands what is needed to fully transform the sector and the data generated in the sector. As the ATO becomes fully operational, this understanding, lessons and experiences would be put to test. ATO is spearheading four main activities to strengthen research and use of data for better decision-making and performance management in the agriculture sector:
- Digitization of existing data, research and other performance information held by MoALFC and associated agencies;
- Creation of an enabling environment for research and innovation with clear linkages between data, research, and innovation;
- Defining data laws and set up open data platforms for agricultural data at national and county levels to accelerate the launch of the research and data flagship;
- Launching data use cases.
Discussions are underway with the Agriculture and Rural Development donor group and other partners, to build on the successes and lessons from this initiative, to enhance the Ministry’s M&E capacity through the ATO in line with the ASTGS Flagships 7 (i.e. launch three knowledge and skills-building programmes for ~200 national and county government leaders and flagship implementers and establish a digitally enabled extension programme led by ~3,000 county-based youth extension agents) and 8 (i.e. strengthen research and innovation as launch priority digital and data use cases to better drive decision making and performance management). As the ATO develops a programme performance dashboard to strengthen the role of M&E and use of data to improve service delivery and inform decision making. In so doing, the ATO seeks to address three key challenges the sector faces to be able to realize real-time operational and strategic improvements. First catalyzing the research and innovation space in agriculture, including around use of big data and advanced analytics. Second, enabling more reliable access to useable and shareable data. And finally, demand for quality analyses to support evidence-based decisions on performance management, M&E, research and policy.
This initiative is enough proof that Kenya’s journey to transformation aboard the data revolution bus is on the right track.
This case study benefitted from the review of Thule Lenneiye (ATO), Tom Dienya (MoALFC), Neema Grace Mutemi (Food Security War Room), Heri Mwagonah (MoALFC), Richard Ndegwa (ASDSP II), Bernard Mwangangi (ASDSP II), Philip Thigo (Thunderbird School of Global Management), Clifford Okembo (ESRI), Stanley Mbagathi (SustaiNet) and Mikael Segerros (NIRAS).