Mobile phones aiding the agriculture sector

Every being must have food to survive. In many parts of the world it is taken for granted that food is available and filled with variety. Markets and grocery stores can be accessed daily if necessary. Many people choose to have gardens, but these are for recreation or as experiments with their children. These gardens do not provide the bulk of nutrition necessary to survive, but provide excitement and pleasure. I am always delighted to see new sprouts emerge from our small garden. But, what if the garden you kept was the sole basis of food for you and your family? What if markets were not available, nor was the money needed to readily purchase goods from these markets? Nor could you access information that would improve your farming techniques or help you determine weather patterns? Throughout the world, numerous people are bound to the land and dependent upon its yield. Individuals, families, cooperatives and communities working to provide basic sustenance. For centuries, farming has been accomplished using knowledge passed from one generation to the next. The work is often arduous and time consuming. New methods and ideas have been slow to infiltrate rural communities throughout the world. Farming itself is risky. There are many obstacles to success: weather, soil erosion, determining market value of goods to name a few. But what if a mobile phone could aid farmers in their pursuit of larger yields and greater prosperity?

Mobile phones are being used in a variety of ways to provide information to farmers and assist them in making decision about crop production, crop rotation, market value and weather concerns. Through mobile phones rural farmers can better prepare for the market by accessing current trends in pricing. This allows them to negotiate better deals with middlemen and get their crops to market faster. Within Kenya, the app M-Farm is being used to send farmers text messages requesting information about crop prices. The mission of M-Farm is to “Create solutions that empower farmers to work and communicate in new and innovative ways”[1] Though M-Farm text messaging is more expensive than standard texting, farmers found the timeliness of information and the reduction in need of middlemen a clear price worth paying.  According to the Brookings, “when farmers wanted to sell their crops they preferred M-Farm because it quickly provided information, which was storable on their phones.”[2] M- Farm continues to expand by providing more knowledge and information to farmers. Users of this app take part in a farming community where they can access market prices and share knowledge on growing crops and combatting crop diseases.

iCow is a mobile phone agricultural platform developed by Green Dreams TECH Ltd. The platform is currently available in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya. Multiple languages are available to increase the number of farmers able to access the information. This is essential and we have seen that innovative thinkers recognize the need to broaden their scope by incorporating local languages in addition to a common language. iCow claims its primary goal is to solve Africa’s food security problems. This is a fantastic goal! Through this platform farmers may access all or one of the products for a farmer.  This allows farmers to tailor the service to their own needs. The smart tools feature helps farmers manage their everyday risks by helping “a farmer understand his soil type, identify his problems on his crops and even select the correct seed for his geographical zone.”[3] The Farmer library offers access to information on a variety of livestock, crops, soils, smart farm practices. One ingenious adaption is that the Farmer library can be accessed without connectivity. This is vital for those living in the rural areas. Through iCow farmers can also sign up to receive text reminders concerning their livestock needs. These reminders are designed to improve the productivity and expand the life cycle of the livestock.

Mobile phones are being used to provide farmers access to knowledge about crops and livestock and market prices. But how can mobile phones help farmers prepare for mother nature. As climate change results in increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and extreme weather, it becomes imperative to provide farmers with more accurate and localized information about weather. Severe weather changes can and will undermine the agricultural economy on which many depend. The developing world will be most negatively impacted by the effects of climate change. “According to the World Bank, in Africa the effects of climate change could cause food prices to increase by as much as 12% by 2030, and by up to 70% by 2080.”[4] Mobile phone services are attempting to modernize weather information and its distribution. Below is a list, provided by GSMA, of selected weather providers via mobile phones.

 

 

This list highlights that various countries recognize the value of mobile phones in disseminating information. However, according to GSMA there are problems with the information. When surveyed, “users indicated that they would like more locally accurate weather information, including longer-term seasonal forecasts.”[5] GSMA has also acknowledged that to improve the user experience service providers should offer more frequent weather updates and work more closely with local weather organizations and weather services that are developing innovative techniques to expand understanding of weather patterns and reach a larger audience.

These are just a few examples of the advancements within mobile phone technology that are assisting farmers and providing access to information and ideas that would otherwise be unknown. The communication allows farmers to be more competitive in markets and understand new farming techniques and weather patterns. These are essential as climate change continues to impact our world and food security, especially in the developing world, becomes increasingly unstable. Improving mobile phone technology and increasing access to information and education can provide sustainable solutions to issues of food security.

 

Blog post by Linnie Pawlek, founder of Teach By Tech, Inc. a 501 (c)3 organization located in Colorado, USA. To learn more about how Teach By Tech is working to make education accessible to women of the urban slums in the developing world visit our webpage: www.teachbytech.org

 

 


[1] M-Farm webpage  http://mfarm.co.ke/

[2] Bleiberg, Joshua. “Three ways mobile is helping farmers in Kenya” https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2015/04/23/three-ways-mobile-is-helping-farmers-in-kenya/

[3] iCow webpage “Products for Farmer”  http://www.icow.co.ke/products

[4] GSMA. “Weather forecasting and monitoring: Mobile solutions for climate resilience.” February 2016, p 7.

[5] GSMA. “Weather forecasting and monitoring: Mobile solutions for climate resilience.” February 2016, p 10