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How to Use Mobile Phones to encourage information sharing within the agricultural value chains

Agriculture, Wireless Wednesday

August 15, 2014

Smallholder farmers form majority of the farming capital in Africa, yet more often than not they are left out of the value chain’s growth. Mobile is a powerful tool in Africa. In fact, according to a report by GSMA, Mobile penetration across the region was 54% in 2012 and contributed over six per cent of the region’s GDP. Most farmers have access to a mobile phone, can they leverage mobile technology in strengthening agricultural value chains and in enabling them to become agriprenuers and more actively engaged in market-led agriculture? Can mobile innovations help in impacting the agricultural value chains?

A farmers speaking during the event

A farmers speaking during the event

On the 30th of July 2014, mobile application developers, farmers, government representatives, NGOs, exporters, Investors, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders in the agriculture sector met at m:lab east Africa to discuss this during Wireless Wednesday event sponsored by USAID. The meetup was meant to help the attendees have an understanding of what factors are necessary for value chains to thrive, development of the value chain and how mobile technology can encourage information sharing within the value chain to the benefit of the smallholder farmer. Some of the Highlights from the event: Extension Officer’s Ratio: According to an extension officer from Kakuzi, Mr Mwaniki,their ratio is 1 officer for 15,000 farmers. He reckons that mobile tech can help them in information sharing more efficiently, fast and to masses. Farmers suffer because of information lag and lack of proper advice from extension workers on disease outbreak, weather updates, good practises, just to mention a few. Mobile technology can bridge this gap. Government Involvement: According to Grace Agili, government would like to support mobile innovations in agriculture but they have inadequate resources. In fact they have so much information in the govt websites that are available for all stakeholders for free, but very few know this. She encouraged developers to leverage on that, to share useful information to farmers

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in simpler,more effective ways. Govt currently disseminates information to smallholder farmers using radio for free, but farmers have to buy directories, documentaries and manuals. When asked about government working with developers, Grace Agili Said, “We do not have to reinvent the wheel or compete with developers but support you to reach more farmers and create more awareness about available solutions in Agriculture.” Government is a key player in the value chain and their participation, in terms of policy and infrastructure can impact the value chain immensely.

A farmers speaking during the event

Attendees the event

Engagement: Farmers were urged to share information and adopt the family approach to integrate youths in agriculture. And in order to grow the value chain they were encouraged to take the wheel and team up with developers, give them guidance and together build solutions that not only connect with farmers but solve pain points in the agricultural value chains. Awareness: Farmers need to give or receive some information to / from other farmers, buyers, government, extension workers, agro-vet etc from time to time.But they normally experience hardship accessing or sharing information required during farming activities or at post-harvest level because they don’t know available technology solutions to help them. Farmer present at the meetup agreed that mobile phone could help speed up, and open up flow of information within agricultural value chains. Actors in the agricultural value chains – (including farmers, agro-vets, buyers, extension workers, government, financiers etc) stand a realistic chance to benefit from improved information flow if there can be mobile phone solutions working a large scale (the scale at which M-PESA operates or even on a global scale). Public Awareness is missing. Farmers need to be sensitized and informed especially on these factors:

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  • Market and pricing information
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  • Type of Crop to plant
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  • Crop Management and Ecology .
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  • Potential Buyers
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  • Profitability of the crop

These information can help a farmer make sound decision even before he/she starts planting the said crop. Improved information sharing within the agricultural value chains will benefit all the stakeholders in the chain.

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What are the challenges of uptake of mAgric solutions?

Agriculture, Wireless Wednesday

October 30, 2013

m:lab East Africa held one of the most interactive mobiles for agriculture meetup in partnership with USAID today. The meetup attracted key stakeholders in the agriculture sectors who met with the farmers and developers to discuss the theme of the day. The Key discussants were; Anuj Tanna VAS Product Manager, Orange, Qureish Noordin, Program Officer, Extension Support Function, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and Spencer Morley, Farmforce Implementing Manager Syngenta Foundation for sustainable Agriculture. We also had an Extension officer from Tala and farmers from Nyanza, Western and Eastern Provinces The uptake of mAgric innovations is still slowly picking up especially in the rural areas where most of the farming is taking place. In the previous Wireless Wednesday meetups that we’ve held,most farmers do not know about the existing innovations and for the few who know about the existing innovations not all of them are using them. In today’s Wireless Wednesday, we visited some of the challenges of uptake of mAgric innovations and suggested ways to increase awareness of the innovations. 1421022_608830812509732_1960025827_o Some of the challenges mentioned include; Cost – Are farmers willing to spend money on available solution? that is one questions that has been asked several times during the meetups. Developers come up with solutions that are expensive for the farmers hence farmers do not use the innovations available. Some of the farmers said they are willing to spend money on a solution that adds value to their production. Targeting the wrong customers – Farming is widely diverse and thus some might require different solutions. Most developers target “all customer” in agriculture without having to factor in the needs of the different customer segments, this leads to unsatisfied customers for example the needs of a dairy farmer might not necessarily be the same as of those of a maize farmer. Blanket information: Most developers put information about everything in the app/solution. The information is not localized or customized for a particular region/type of farming/ specific crop or a specified farmer. Simplicity – The type of message and language used in your solution can contribute to slow uptake of your application. The message should be simple, in a language that is familiar and understandable to your target customers. Do not assume that everyone knows how it works, explain clearly each and

every step of your solution. Ensure that your solution is easy and simple to use Need-driven – The solutions should be more need driven than demand driven. More often developers are more demand driven rather than need driven hence developing a product because it is on demand rather than focusing on the real need of the customers. Linkages and partnerships – Finding the right and trusted organizations to partner with is a big challenge especially for developers. When it comes to marketing your product partnerships is very important. Partnership with trusted organizations/Government gives your product credibility hence creates trust with your users.

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Participants interacting after the discussion

With an aim of increasing awareness of the mAgric solutions, the following key points were suggested; Partnerships – Partnerships with the right organizations is very important, Developers can leverage on existing networks on the ground like NGOs, farmer groups and Extension officers who can link them to the farmers directly. Such partnerships can help developers reach a good number of farmers at once saving them on cost. Partnerships with also telcos is important as developers can leverage on their mass market reach. Leverage on existing research – Before jumping into your primary market research head first, it’s important that you first seek out existing, relevant research. This not only saves your startup time, but also prevents wasted funding on a product that would have duplicated existing results. In conclusion, developers should strive to make their innovations accessible, affordable and appealing to the right customer target.

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ICT4Ag Hackathon National Winners Announced

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October 14, 2013

The ICT for Agriculture (ICT4Ag) international conference and its parallel hackathon (dubbed “Agri-hack championship”) will take place from 4th – 8th November 2013 in Kigali Rwanda. The conference seeks to examine how ICTs are truly empowering producers and consumers along the entire value chain. Earlier this year, the Technical Center for Agricutural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) placed a call for expression of interest for hubs to hold national events across East Africa. 9 Hubs, which are among the key ones in East Africa, were selected. Each of these hubs organized national hackathons or selection events.
The winning teams from each hub’s national event are as follows:

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  • Hive Colab (Uganda)- The Agripreneur – Digital Platform to connect and harmonize key Youth stakeholders along the agricultural value chain. By Byamugisha Donald and Denis Izakare
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  • OutBox (Uganda)- ENSIBUUKO: Leveraging mobile and web technologies to improve access to finance for better household livelyhood. By David Opio and Gerald Otim.
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  • iBiz Africa (Kenya) – Kosmerc Systems: Mobile app providing location based information to farmers on favourable crops, seeds, fertilizer, farm management and soil type. By Jeffrey Cherogony and Clinton Busolo.
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  • C4DLab(Kenya)-  FARM DRIVE: Digital book keeping app to enhance credit-worthiness for a 21st century farmer by James Macharia Kimani and Caroline Mbithe Muteti.
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  • Habaka Madagascar Innovation Hub – HighHay: Project Management application for farming by Joelisata RABEHARISOLO and Miradontsoa Asafa ANDRIANARISON.
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  • Buni Hub(Tanzania) – AgrInfo: Farm Plots GIS by Rose Peter Funja and Grace  Slyvester Makanyaga.
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  • Kinu Group Limited (Tanzania) – HabariMazao: SMS, USSD, and Web based platform for collection and sharing of market price data – from markets to the farmers by Elilaki Bariki Guard and Ntomoka Sugwejo Kaboda.
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  • IceAddis (Ethiopia) – mAgric: by Mr. Nebiyou Yirga Wolde and Dr. Abeselom Samson Joseph
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  • iHub (Kenya)– was selected as non competing hub. They will send a team to showcase their product but will not compete with the teams from the other hubs. The team that will represent iHub is Smart Agriculture- Automatic weather stations that sends updates on when to plant to farmers, etc via sms by Tom Ekajja  and Cyrus Baraza.

CTA1During the Finals of the Agri-hack Championship in Kigali (04 to 07 November 2013), all applications will be fined-tuned. National teams will received advices from key stakeholders and users. Each national winner will get a prize. After a pitching session, the best three applications selected by a panel of judges will receive awards as described below:

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  • Cash Prizes

5000 Euros for the Overall winner
4000 Euros for the Runner Up winner
3000 Euros for the Second Runner up.

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  • Six month incubation and mentoring

The winning teams will be offered incubation and mentoring for six month in the hubs that they are affiliated with to support finalization of their applications and hopeful kick start their businesses.

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  • Challenges

The teams from each hub were given these challenges to work on:
Challenge 1: How can bi-directional information sharing and communication between farmers and extension workers be encouraged or improved? Key areas of interest include information sharing and advisory on soil fertility, fertilizers, weather information, pests, diseases, access to localized farming inputs, multimedia content and ability to verify counterfeit products
Challenge 2: Through ICT applications, how can access to financial services be made easier for farmers through a disruptive, innovative tool?
The teams will now work on their product as they await the finals where they will be required to pitch infront of expert judges, mentors and fellow entrepreneurs. They will also be required to have working products by the time they are presenting during the finals.
kLab, are the hosting hub and will conduct their national selection event on 19th and 20th Oct. If you are in Kigali and would like to participate in this event,sign up HERE:http://klab.rw/public/event/37.
The Agri-hack Championship is organized by CTA in partnership with various stakeholders including MINAGRI (Rwanda), MYICT (Rwanda) and with the financial contribution of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). m:lab East Africa is the technical manager of this event.
For more information, visit www.ict4ag.org;  Email: [email protected]

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Understanding the challenges of uptake and increasing awareness of mAgric innovations – Wireless Wednesday

Agriculture, Wireless Wednesday

September 12, 2013

Developers have come up with a number of apps and mobile service to help farmers especially small-scale farmers to increase their agricultural skills and yields. In the previous wireless Wednesday meetups on agriculture, it was

noted that most farmers do not make use of the available mobile innovations because of lack of awareness of the existing innovations, complexity of the innovations, most of the apps are developed on platforms that are supported on smartphones whereas a good number of farmers own feature phones and the fact that most of the applications available are on App Stores yet farmers don’t know about these stores or how to access them.

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Previous Wireless Wednesday meetup

On 30th October 2013, the m: lab will host one of the frequent meetup dubbed Wireless Wednesday. The event themed Understanding the challenges of uptake and increasing awareness of mAgric innovations, will attract mobile application developers, farmers, government representatives, NGOs, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders in the agricultural sector. The event is sponsored by USAID.

Specific meetup details are;

Date: 30th October 2013

Venue: m:lab East Africa Balcony

Time: 12.00 – 2.00 pm

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To participate in the event, RSVP HERE. There will be a live twitter stream during the event, you can join the discussion using the hashtag #WirelessWednesday.

Six Wireless Wednesday meetups on agriculture have been held since last year. Recap articles on the meetups can be found below as follows :-

27th February 2013: Improving the quality and uptake of Agricultural mobile innovations

29th August 2012: Mobile Apps Targeting post harvest challenges in Agriculture

27th June 2012 : Reviewing Mobile Applications Targeting Agricultural Productivity

25th April 2012: Using mobile tech to overcome post harvest challenges in horticulture

29th Feb 2012: Nine considerations for implementing apps for Agriculture

29th Feb 2012:Using technology to enhance productivity in agricultural value chains

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Improving quality and uptake of agricultural mobile innovations- Wireless Wednesday Recap.

Agriculture, Wireless Wednesday

March 6, 2013

Most small scale farming systems in Kenya are much less productive and profitable than they could be. The reasons include lack of access to inputs and credit, and the inability to bear risks. Another major contribution is the information and skills gap that constrains the adoption of available mobile innovations. There are many mobile innovations in agriculture but farmers don’t use them for one reason or another.
The sixth Wireless Wednesday on agriculture took place on 27th February 2013. The event sponsored by USAID and organized by m:lab East Africa attracted farmers from Eastern, Coast, Nyanza,Central and Western provinces,mobile apps developers, entrepreneurs, NGOs, financial advisors, government representative and other stakeholders. The main focus of discussion was on how developers can improve the quality of mobile applications they launch into the market to enhance and encourage the uptake of these innovations.
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It was noted that there is a big disconnect between farmers and developers hence some of the applications are not relevant and applicable to farmers. Developers should not only focus on how much the application is going to generate but how the application is going to benefit the end user who is the farmer. This means going to the ground and getting all the information about the particular field that is what farmers are doing and the information they need so that when coming up with the application it is relevant and useful to the farmers.
Reasons why farmers do not use the existing mobile applications

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  • Farmers do not know about the existing mobile innovation in agriculture.
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  • Some of the mobile application are hard/complicated for some of the farmers to use.
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  • Most of the applications are developed on platforms that are supported on smartphones whereas a good number of farmers own feature phones.
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  • The applications available are on App Stores, this poses as a challenge to most farmers because they don’t know about these stores or how to access them.

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Factor to consider when enhancing the uptake of agricultural mobile innovation
Simplicity – Developers were urged to make their application very simple in a way that it can be understood by farmers and at the same time make the application affordable.
Information – most of the developer come up with applications without having sufficient information about the particular field. Research is important before coming up with an application, get to know some of the areas where the farmers need help and how your application will provide the needed service to the farmers so that the application becomes relevant to the farmer.
Platforms – Developers were challenged to develop apps that can be accommodated on feature phones so that the farmers owning feature phones are not left out, or make the app available across most if not all platforms.
Repository for MAgric innovation – A farmer challenged the developers to come up with a portal with all the applications and information about agriculture, something like a one stop shop where farmers can get all the application and information necessary about the market, weather, pesticides, outbreak of disease among others. Have the applications in an apps store is good but how many farmers can access these stores? Very few. A repository of these apps ensures that the farmer gets access to agricultural app easily.
Partnerships – Developers were highly recommended to work with the government and other key stakeholders in the agricultural sector. Partnerships ensure that the applications channeled out have correction information, they are correctly packaged and they easily reach large number of farmers.

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Improving quality and uptake of agricultural mobile innovations

Agriculture, Wireless Wednesday

February 19, 2013

On 27th February 2013 m:lab East Africa will host the sixth Wireless Wednesday meetup on mobile innovations in agriculture. The meetup will focus on how developers can improve the quality of mobile applications they launch into the market. Quality of the applications being user friendliness, relevance, problem-solving, among other factors. The attendees will also discuss whether  quality assurance drives uptake of mobile applications in agriculture.
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The theme of the event is: Improving quality and uptake of agricultural mobile innovations.  The event will have mobile apps developers, entrepreneurs, farmers, NGOs, financial advisors,media, government representatives, and other stakeholders. The event, sponsored by USAID through DAI.
Several suggestions and feedbacks have been given to developers and mobile entrepreneurs targeting agricultural solutions in previous Wireless Wednesday events. A recap of these suggestions may be found in previous articles in this blog as follows
31st October 2012: Challenges Faced by Rice Farmers due to lack of Reliable Agro Weather Data
29th August 2012: Mobile Apps Targeting Post Harvest Challenges in Agriculture
27th June 2012 : Reviewing Mobile Applications Targeting Agricultural Productivity
25th April 2012: Using mobile tech to overcome post harvest challenges in horticulture
29th Feb 2012: Nine considerations for implementing apps for Agriculture
29th Feb 2012:Using technology to enhance productivity in agricultural value chains
The upcoming event will take place from 10am to 2pm. The main focus group discussion session will be held from 12pm to 2pm. You are invited to familiarise yourself with the apps’ featured during the marketplace demos between 10am and 12noon. And to give your input on the discussion. Registration for participation can be done HERE…. NB: there are limited slots available.

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Challenges faced by rice farmers due to lack of reliable agro weather data.

Agriculture, Wireless Wednesday

December 19, 2012

Understanding the weather patterns empowers farmers in making informed decisions on what to take up to ensure that they can result to high yields. Weather information enables a farmer to incorporate improved agricultural practices and plan better.
On Wednesday 31st October 2012, Mr. Philip Ouma, a mixed farmer from Nyanza shared some of the challenges he and other rice farmers face with regards to weather. He noted that the most frustration problem farmers face is accuracy of weather information disseminated to them through the media. He noted with concern that they prepare their farms and sometimes even plant because they have received information that there will be rains, only for the rains to stop abruptly. This inconvenience farmers and results to losses at times.
Reliability is also a major challenge these farmers go through because they do not trust the weather information they receive. This is because more often than not, the information they receive is on short term basis and cannot allow them to make long term decisions. Mr. Ouma was concerned to hear Kenya Meteorological Department officials admitting to the fact that most of the times information they disseminate to commercial radio stations gets distorted and information that reaches the farmer ends up being inaccurate.

Mr. Philip Ouma, a mixed farmer from Nyanza shares some of the challenges rice farmers face because of lack of unreliable weather information.

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Enhancing the use of reliable agro-weather data by farmers – Wireless Wednesday

Agriculture, Wireless Wednesday

October 18, 2012

Weather is a key determinant for lot of activities in agriculture. Farmers across the world struggle with productivity as well as handling post harvest challenges because of  weather related challenges. Agriculture is the backbone of the Kenyan economy. It is a key sector in the economy, contributing immensely to the GDP.
Weather over a long period of time affects food security. This is because it affects the stability, utilization, accessibility and  availability of food. Weather therefore is very important to farmer because it affects productivity, market flows and purchasing power of the consumers.
Agro-weather information is important because it enables the farmers to understanding the weather patterns hence empowering them in making decisions that can result to high yields. For example weather information enables a farmer to incorporate improved agricultural practices, plan on planting, weeding, top dressing and harvesting timings.

On Wednesday 31st of October 2012, m:Lab East Africa with the support of USAID will host mobile applications developer, farmers, government representatives, NGOs, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders in the agricultural sector while they discuss how the use of reliable agro-weather data by farmers can be enhanced.
The focus group discussion will seek to find out from the stakeholders how accurate, weather information dissemination,personal weather stations and agronomic practices affect agriculture and how technology can be used to help farmers.
Key discussants at the meetup will be:

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  • Simon Gathara, Assistant Director Kenya Meteorological Department
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  • A representative from Kilimo Salama
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  • Yumbya Ben, A Crops Development Officer
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  • Farmers from different regions kenya
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  • Representative from Climate Change Unit, Ministry of Agriculture
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  • Among others

The main focus group discussion session will be held from 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm at the m:lab East Africa balcony. Before the main discussion there will be an informal market place session where mobile application developers / entrepreneurs will showcase their solutions through demos to farmers and other stakeholders present. To participate in the event register through eventbrite site HERE NB: there are limited slots available.

Wireless Wednesday are informal focus group meetups are aimed at creating a forum for exchange of views and networking between mobile application developers and practitioners in various industry sectors.

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