Digital tools for an organic farm

Investing in Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) pays off for a farmer in North Macedonia

Suzana Dimitrievska is an organic farmer in North Macedonia. She is using Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) to increase the efficiency of her family farm. ©Suzana Dimitrievska


Suzana Dimitrievska is an organic farmer in North Macedonia. Coming from a line of strong, well-educated women, she has always been comfortable embracing new technology. She is using Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) to increase the efficiency of her family farm.

Several years ago, she bought a farm management software that enabled her to better plan and monitor crops, minimize labour costs and spend less on gas and organic fertilizer, thereby raising her profits.

After bagging a contract with a Swiss company in 2017, Suzana thought she could do all the work with seasonal labour. However, as the demand grew, she realized the need for and benefit of an automated solution that could control several different processes at the same time.

Suzana, with support from a consultant and the Swiss company, was able to prepare a cost-benefit analysis of manual work versus using an automatic sorter. They identified an optical colour sorter machine that would be able to detect and sort over 123 different types of crops, herbs and agricultural products by their size, colour and form.

“With a loan from the bank, she invested in the optical photo selector. Even though the price tag was hefty at 75 000 Euros, I am now able to easily select and pack beans at the same time meeting the quality standards of my customers,” says Suzana.

Left: Suzana regularly shares her knowledge with other farmers. ©FAO/Sophie Treinen Right: Having purchased farm management software, Suzana is now able to plan and analyse crops from her office. ©Suzana Dimitrievska

Information and Communication Technologies, like the ones chosen by Suzana, are long seen as drivers of rural development and are accelerating progress towards gender equality. ICTs refer to a broad category of devices and services that help famers gather, store, analyse and share data. They are empowering rural people, and especially women, in a myriad of ways – from cell phones that enable access to mobile banking and satellites that provide updated weather reports to drones that allow for detailed aerial imagery. 

However, those who could benefit the most from ICTs are also the ones least able to access and afford them. Poor rural women, despite playing a fundamental role in agricultural production, tend to have less access to ICTs than their wealthier, urban or male counterparts. As a result, in many rural areas, the full potential of ICTs remains untapped.

Since adopting the  farm management software, Suzana has enjoyed greater decision-making ability and seen her investment pay off. She is able to run her farm more efficiently, using the software to keep records, track costs, manage seasonal workers and analyse the profitability of each of her crops.

In fact, after her first year using the software, Suzana learned that some of the crops she had cultivated for years were not economical – so she is now investigating more profitable options.

Suzana is now looking into ICT-enabled precision agriculture as a way to reduce her risks and mitigate the effects of climate change. ©Suzana Dimitrievska

Other ICTs could also be the key to Suzana’s future. In 2017, extraordinarily high temperatures took a heavy toll on Suzana’s crops. Her apricots, watermelons, beans, chickpeas and sunflowers were all affected, and the leaves of her grapes even burned in the heat. But by investing in precision agriculture – using ICTs like soil mapping and aerial imagery – she gained vital information about how and when to irrigate her crops for maximum efficiency. This approach will reduce the risk of losing crops and mitigate the effects of climate change. In the near future, she hopes to invest in additional modern irrigation system and soil sensors.

“Smallholder farmers like myself still lack knowledge and understanding on the potential opportunities provided by ICTs,” says Suzana. “More demonstration farms are needed so that we can learn how new technologies can be used and what the benefits are, and eventually decide to invest in them.”

FAO regularly organizes regional e-agriculture forums where the use of ICTs in food and agriculture are demonstrated and that give opportunities to smallholder farmers to share their own experiences with each other. FAO believes building smart, community-centred approaches to ICTs can provide rural people with the tools they need to innovate for change – and help grant more women farmers like Suzana, access to these key technologies. Moreover, as rural farmers take more active roles in their communities, ICTs can be effective tools for both women and men to alleviate poverty, advance gender equality and build a #ZeroHunger world.

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2. Zero hunger, 5. Gender equality, 9. Industry innovation and infrastructure