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
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
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.
Attendees the event
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:
- Market and pricing information
- Type of Crop to plant
- Crop Management and Ecology .
- Potential Buyers
- 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.