A digital ecosystem to collect, store, and visualize crop varietal data

Revolutionizing Crop Data Collection with VarScout
Participants at the VarScout Digital App Innovation Package and Scaling Readiness (IPSR) workshop held on 12th April 2024, Trademark Hotel, Nairobi

In today’s digital age, harnessing the power of technology is crucial for driving agricultural progress. One innovative tool that is making waves in the crop data collection space is VarScout, a digital ecosystem developed by the International Potato Center (CIP) in partnership with RESONANZ Group GmbH. This cutting-edge app is designed to collect, store, monitor, and visualize plant varietal data, empowering farmers, agronomists, and extension workers to make informed decisions and promote sustainable farming practices.

What is VarScout?

VarScout is a user-friendly mobile application that allows users to record the location of specific crop varieties. By capturing this valuable information, VarScout creates a publicly accessible database that displays where certain crop varieties are grown. This data-driven approach provides invaluable insights into the distribution of crop varieties, enabling value chain actors to understand farmers’ needs better and protect agrobiodiversity.

Scaling to Multiple Crops

While VarScout initially focused on potato and sweet potato varieties, its versatility has enabled expansion to encompass a diverse range of crops. With Dr. Karanja of KALRO Katumani, CIP has worked on modalities for introducing common beans and maize into the app. This scalability ensures that VarScout remains relevant and valuable across various agricultural contexts, catering to the needs of farmers and stakeholders working with different crop types.

Group photo of the extension officers engaged in data collection using the VarScout Digital App who participated at the VarScout Digital App review meeting held on 23 May 2023, Milele Hotel, Nakuru County.
Why is VarScout Useful?
  1. Improved Crop Variety Mapping: VarScout’s primary objective is to enhance our understanding of the geographical distribution of crop varieties. This knowledge is crucial for developing targeted breeding programs, optimizing seed systems, and ensuring food security.
  2. Data-Driven Decision Making: The data collected through VarScout empowers stakeholders, including policymakers, researchers, and extension workers, to make informed decisions based on real-world information. This data-driven approach promotes evidence-based policymaking and tailored agricultural interventions.
  3. Agrobiodiversity Conservation: By documenting the presence of various crop varieties across different regions, VarScout contributes to agrobiodiversity conservation. This information is invaluable for preserving genetic diversity and promoting sustainable agricultural practices.
  4. Farmer Engagement: VarScout provides a platform for farmers to actively participate in data collection, fostering a sense of ownership and engagement in agricultural development initiatives.
  5. Market Linkages: The data collected through VarScout can facilitate connections between producers and markets and with seed producers, enabling more efficient value chain operations.
Field practical session- A group of county staff testing the usability of the upgraded VarScout Digital tool, Kihingo ward, Nakuru County. The group were in a field of beans- Nyota variety, 12 June 2024.
Scaling Up VarScout in Kenya

Since its introduction in Kenya in November 2022, VarScout has gained significant traction. Over 34 Ward Agricultural Extension Officers (WAEOs) from seven major potato-producing counties have been trained to use the app. As of March 2024, they have uploaded over 1,070 field observation data points on potatoes.

Fridah Mutua, one of the trained extension officers using VarScout digital app to measure the area of the potato field, Turi Ward, Nakuru County.

Thanks to the scaling funds received from the Ukama Ustawi Initiative, VarScout is set to expand its reach in Kenya, with plans to collect over 20,000 datasets in the counties of Nakuru and Meru during the scaling phase. This ambitious goal underscores the commitment to leveraging digital tools for agricultural development. It highlights the potential of VarScout to drive positive change in the sector.

As Lynette Echesa, the Potato County Liaison Officer in Nakuru County, aptly stated, “The ongoing initiatives focusing on digital applications are poised to revolutionize extension services through digitization, concurrently offering valuable insights on varietal performance in the county to the research community.”

With its user-friendly interface, data-driven approach, and potential for scaling, VarScout is poised to become a game-changer in crop data collection and agricultural development. By empowering stakeholders with accurate and comprehensive information, this innovative tool paves the way for sustainable farming practices, improved food security, and the preservation of agrobiodiversity.