Precision Agriculture for Development
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Precision Development (PxD) is a global non-profit organization that builds digital services that empower people living in poverty to improve their livelihoods, mitigate risks, and advance environmental sustainability. PxD supports smallholder farmers in developing countries through the provision of customized information delivered through mobile services. Originally founded as Precision Agricultural Development (PAD) in 2016 by then-Harvard Professor and 2019 Nobel Laureate Michael Kremer (now University of Chicago), Harvard Business School Professor Shawn Cole, Brown University Assistant Professor Dan Björkegren, and impact investment expert Heiner Baumann in 2016,  it is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. PxD operates in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Colombia.
A majority of PxD's services deliver customized digital agricultural advice to smallholder farmers via their mobile phones, with a focus on crop optimization, pest management, informed input utilization, and environmental stewardship. PxD also delivers information in sectors beyond agriculture, for example, utilizing SMS to facilitate math education in Kenya, and using push calls and text-based services to promote the adoption of zinc-biofortified wheat seeds to improve nutrition in Pakistan. Although delivery channels and crops vary among countries, PxD’s mobile services are generally composed of interactive voice response (IVR) hotlines, short messaging systems (SMS), and mobile applications adapted to local contexts. The agronomic advice includes information on topics such as soil maintenance, pest control, and planting schedules in order to increase “productivity, profitability and environmental sustainability”. PxD employs a network of agronomists, field officers, and call center operators to synthesize farmer data to support customizable service. PxD's model is informed by randomized controlled trials, impact evaluations and A/B testing, and uses a data-driven, evidence-based and iterative approach to refine the style and quality of its advice and the quality of its service delivery.
Prior to their role in co-founding PAD, Michael Kremer and Shawn Cole had separately conducted research on how information delivered through mobile technology could improve agricultural yields in developing countries. Both identified that farmers were receptive to technocratic agricultural advice and recognized the power of mobile systems to deliver such information. In 2011, Cole and Avishka Fernando commenced a study of an IVR-based advisory service, called Avaaj Otalo, for cotton farmers in Gujarat, India, while Kremer and Lorenzo Casaburi, Sendhil Mullainathan, and Ravindra Ramrattan began a study of SMS advice to sugarcane farmers in Kenya. Other foundational research came in Kremer’s collaborations with Raissa Fabregas and Frank Schilbach, and with Fabregas, Matthew Lowes, Robert On, and Giulia Zane. In 2016, 28,325 farmers in India and Kenya used PAD services, and at the time of PxD’s Q3 2021 report, it serviced 5.2 million smallholder farmers across ten countries.
In August 2020, PxD’s Board decided to consider opportunities to provide information services in education and other sectors, in addition to agriculture. The organization formally changed its legally registered name to Precision Development (PxD) to accommodate a wider range of possible activities and consider new opportunities and partnerships, within and beyond agriculture, to advance information provision to poor families in developing countries. The “x” in the acronym “PxD” invites conversation about what the organization does, and the possibilities implicit in its services, experience, and capabilities.
Partnerships and projects
PxD often collaborates with local governments and organizations, using data and research to improve its services.
PxD rolled out its initial service in 2016 in Gujarat, India; Krishi Tarang (meaning “agricultural wave”) started with 200 farmers and had grown to over 40,000 farmers by mid-2017, providing farmers with free, customized information via weekly voice messages sent to their mobile phone and as a direct response to agricultural questions logged by farmers. In the same year, the organization formed a research partnership with One Acre Fund in Kenya to analyze data from past experiments and design new trials to shed light on farmer behavior change challenges.
In 2017, PxD formed a partnership with Ethiopia’s Agriculture Transformation Agency to improve the 8028 Farmers Hotline by analyzing user experience, optimizing service delivery, and developing content.
In 2018, PxD launched its largest and most sophisticated project in India to date, the Ama Krushi service, in collaboration with the Government of Odisha’s Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). This project aimed to serve a million farmers within a three-year period. In addition to the two-way interactive voice response platform, Ama Krushi operates a live call center and is making forays into integrating smartphone-enabled tools, community radio, and additional delivery channels. Ama Krushi is embedded within the government apparatus to build ownership and ensure long-term sustainability, and the project was featured in a United Nations Development Programme report on precision agriculture for smallholder farmers.
PxD also formed a partnership in 2018 with the Coffee Board of India to pilot a two-way digital advisory service (dubbed the Coffee Krishi Taranga service). In late 2018, PAD's India Team released a smartphone app called “Krishi Tarang” for the Google Play Store. The project mirrors the organization’s IVR service, but adds the ability to see and submit images. It also partnered with Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, CABI and mobile services provider Safaricom to launch MoA-INFO, a free instructional text message system concerning “monitoring, identification....and control measures” for the fall armyworm pest.
In April 2019, the organization launched an advisory service in Pakistan in partnership with the Government of Punjab, India, to provide cotton and oilseed farmers with information about the state government’s input subsidies and advice on recommended inputs. In May, it partnered with the West Bengal Accelerated Development of Minor Irrigation Project (WBADMIP), a project supported by the World Bank, to provide advisory services to farmers enrolled in water user associations, and in August it formed a partnership with the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International and the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture to provide farmers with pest management practices.
In 2020, it formed a partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to deliver digital services to 1.7 million farmers and address the impact of COVID-19 in Kenya, Pakistan, and Nigeria, and launched a Nigerian service in partnership with IFAD and the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
In 2021, PxD launched an initiative in Colombia in partnership with Rare and with support from UK Pact, and won a Brazilian government tender to deliver a digital agricultural extension service to 100,000 farmers in the north-east region.
Funding and recognition
As a 501c3 status non-profit organization, PxD relies on public and private partnerships. Among others, it has received donations from the following groups:
· Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
· Dioraphte Foundation
· Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation
· Jasmine Social Investments
· Mulago Foundation
· Sall Family Foundation
PxD’s projects have been featured in the Financial Times and The Standard. The organization's research has appeared on the World Bank's "Development Impact" blog and in lectures at the London School of Economics and Political Science. A case study focussing on PxD's theory of change and evidentiary origins is included on the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) website. In 2020 GiveWell, a non-profit charity assessment and effective altruism-focused organization, named PAD a "Standout Charity", and ranked it among the most cost-effective charities in the world.
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