Farm Management Information Systems (FMIS)

What is this guide and why does it matter?

This guide contains actionable steps on how to design and implement a Farm Management Information System (FMIS). We believe that an FMIS can benefit various stakeholders in agricultural value chains and enable other innovations in smallholder inclusive business models. Our data shows that agribusinesses can use an FMIS to engage with famers more efficiently and effectively while also creating value. This guide contains a wealth of information based on companies’ shared experience with regard to Farm Management Information Systems. It examines why and how to design, set up and operate such a system.

This guide is particularly useful to companies, support organizations and donors working with enterprises to strengthen their business models.

What is a Farm Management Information System?

Farm Management Information Systems (FMIS) are Information Communication Technology (ICT) based tools that support farmers and value chain actors that work with farmers in making data driven decisions in order to improve their operations. In the context of the FarmFit Insights Hub and this document, we will focus on the use of FMIS by value chain actors to boost their engagement with farmers rather than individual farmers using an FMIS to manage farm operations. In recent history, there has been an increase in the use of such systems among value chain actors such as agribusinesses in low and middle-income countries. They have been proven to enable data driven decisions that support smallholder farming. Such systems also help identify opportunities to increase the commercial viability of their inclusive business models.

FMIS are implemented by businesses to simplify the collection, aggregation and analysis of last-mile farmer data. An FMIS is typically used to collect farmers' agronomic, geospatial, and transactional data. This data can be used to determine what services such as inputs, certification, and training to provide to which farmer, where and at what time. It can also be used to manage sourcing activities such as collecting produce, automating farmer payments and tracing produce. FMIS often have communication features such as mobile messaging systems that provide farmers with real-time information such as weather and market data, as well as extension services such as training on Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs). 

While the definition of a Farm Management Information Systems may vary depending on the user, this guide takes the perspective of the agribusiness as the actor implementing an FMIS in their smallholder-inclusive business models.

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How does it typically work?

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, we provide an illustrative overview of how an FMIS works and its key functions below. This guide’s “How to implement an FMIS” section provides more detailed information on how to design, set up and operate such a system.

Fmi s3x
  1. FMIS maintenance and improvements: Once the FMIS is integrated into the company’s day-to-day operations, it requires continuous maintenance and improvements. While the company owns and manages the system, it may receive continuous support from an FMIS provider in terms of hosting and updating the software.
  2. Data collection and uploading: Data can be collected at the individual farmer level or at the farmer group level and may be entered into the FMIS directly via a farmer's device or through company agents and/or staff.
  3. Data-informed decision making: The data is analyzed and used to segment farmers more efficiently. It is also used to adjust services to their needs or help improve sourcing strategies. The company can also use the data for monitoring and evaluation (M&E) purposes.
  4. Tailored service provision: Companies typically tailor service provision to farmers based on the data and farmer segments generated via the FMIS.
  5. Direct messaging: Companies often have the option to integrate communication features (e.g., SMS) into the FMIS. These features can be used to update farmers on upcoming training activities, field visits, changes in market prices or aggregation activities. Two-way communication, which enables farmers to reach out to companies’ staff and/or agents in case of grievances, or for advisory purposes, could be added to the system as well. 
  6. Data sharing for complementary service provision: With farmers’ informed consent, the company may share data on their profiles with other service providers such as input providers and financial service providers.

Why implement it?

Please click the links below for more details on the benefits that FMIS offers for different actors across the value chain:

Context matters: What are enabling conditions for Farm Management Information Systems?

Farm Management Information Systems are used across a variety of different contexts. However, the level of efficiency gains from such systems can vary depending on a variety of enabling conditions. The following section highlights key conditions where Farm Management Information Systems are most effective. 

  • Value chain
  • Perishability
  • Geographical dispersion of farmers
  • Degree of farmer organization
  • Data policy environment
  • Digital infrastructure
  • Rural infrastructure 

Why not? Key limitations, risks and unintended consequences

From the perspective of the implementing organization, there are a number of limitations and risks that should be taken into consideration before you implement a Farm Management Information System including:

  • Minimum viable scale
  • Reliance on agronomists
  • Required human capital
  • Dependency on FMIS software provider

Similarly, there are unintended consequences that can emerge as a result of FMISThese can impact (certain segments of) farmers, the environment, local community, partner organizations and other stakeholders. For instance:

  • Perpetuating existing inequalities
  • Poor farmer data governance

Smarter design choices can help mitigate some of the limitations, risks and unintended consequences of implementing an FMIS. Read on further to see how you can smartly design your intervention.

How to implement a Farm Management Information System

This section highlights key steps in integrating an FMIS as well as decisions that should be made across the implementation journey. It also provides an overview of key mechanisms through which an FMIS can be optimized for better outcomes. 

How to get started 

FarmFit has supported many companies in integrating Farm Management Information Systems. Implementation can be broken down into three phases: Plan, Design, and Implement. The following graphic highlights activities and outputs for each phase:

Plan design implement3x

How to optimize your Farm Management Information System

From our work supporting companies implementing FMIS, we have found several practices that can improve outcomes for companies, farmers and agents.

How to complement your FMIS

The successful implementation of innovations can often be supported by other innovations being implemented simultaneously. From our experiences, the following innovations can work well alongside an FMIS:

  • Agent Networks: Commission-based agents can be used in data collection into an FMIS and also ensuring that there is two-way communication between an agribusiness using an FMIS and farmers in the supply chain. Having a strong commission-based agent network can optimize the implementation of an FMIS. Click here to read more about implementing a strong agent network. 
  • Segmentation of Farmers and Farmer Organizations: Data from an FMIS can be used for segmenting farmers and farmer organizations. This can enable delivery of customized rather than generic services, which are likely to be more useful to customers. Segmentation can also be used to build risk profiles of farmers, eventually reducing the time required for due-diligence in the case of lending to farmers or their organizations. Click here for a recent farmer income study on farmer segmentation. Alternatively, click here for a guide on farmer organization segmentation.
  • Service Coalitions: By participating in a service coalition, several organizations can benefit from a common FMIS. The coalition’s value is enriched by the multiple and complementary services that each organization can offer (inputs, finance, training, etc.) using a common set of data collected via an FMIS. Co-investing in an FMIS through a service coalition can significantly reduce the costs associated with operationalizing an FMIS. 

What is the impact of a Farm Management Information System?

As most of the agribusinesses that we support are still in the midst of FMIS implementation and operationalization, it is not yet possible to fully measure the impacts of FMIS. However, in order to shed more light on its impact on companies and farmers, we are awaiting results from our end-line assessments, which include data collection at company and farm level. We aim to share updates on FMIS impacts during 2024. The sections below are currently based on anecdotal evidence:

Business case

Value creation at farm-level

Where to find more inspiration