ASHC guest blog April 2012
Abigael Mchana and Caroline Nyakundi ask…
What does the new generation of mobile phones mean for agricultural extension?
Smart phone or PDA’s are becoming commonplace in Africa offering access to email, the internet and e-books. Some have built in keyboards or external USB keyboards, making them mobile mini-computers. Increasingly they are seen as a necessity rather than luxury.
This ability to send and receive information is starting to penetrate the agricultural sector. In Uganda the Grameen Foundation, has developed an ICT application to convey agricultural information to farmers using Android phones. Grameen Foundation pulls together packages of agricultural technologies then presents this to farmers as simple information with clear suggested actions by community knowledge workers. They are using IDEOS handsets from Huawei and a specially developed application developed by AppLab.
Grameen’s initial mobile phone innovation, Village Phone, provided phones to trusted villagers, who in turn sold calls to their neighbours. This model proved successful in Bangledesh and was subsequently adapted and rolled out in Ghana and Indonesia.
The Village Phone concept was Grameen’s initial approach in Uganda and Rwanda. As mobile infrastructure and reach became more robust and mobile phones ownership grew in the villages, Grameen’s model evolved to focus on community knowledge workers brokering information to farmers on agriculture and livestock. The data network accessed by the community knowledge worker’s, uses a technology they claim is 500 times more efficient than SMS. Farmers do not pay for the information received through the community knowledge workers.
Community knowledge workers can access varied information on common crop or livestock problems, including crop and livestock pests and diseases, detecting nutrient deficiencies in crops, fertilizer application and availability of input from agro-input dealers. If the community knowledge workers deal with the farmer’s information request using the App, the information is free. If the farmers need more information they will, in future, be directed to a call centre which Grameen is setting up.
The IKSL project is a joint venture between IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited, the largest fertilizer company in India and Bharti Airtel, the largest mobile telephone operator in India. ASHC member CABI through its India operation has been associated with this service as a consultant since 2009. Farmers involved in the project get five voice messages everyday in local language concerning crop protection and animal health tailored to meet the local needs.
IKSL project in brief
18 Indian states covered
6 million subscribers
100,000 voice messages – beats text because many farmers are illiterate
110,000 farmers queries answered
Basmati rice farmers claimed 22% higher yields from applying the information from IKSL
75% of users think the information from IKSL is better than from other sources
Means extension information reaches the filed ‘24x7’
Farmers want information they can act on – repackaged to their local context
Mobile network operators have found agro-information is key to their rural marketing strategies
The information is provided through an agro-advisory service which has a helpline that enables farmers to get solutions to their problems in local languages through voice messages.
According to Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations there has been a 50% reduction in crop loss due to “correct information” through mobile phones rather than “guess work” by farmers.
Farmers experience constraints using mobile phones such as restricted bandwidth, low battery especially in areas with no electricity, and the navigation problems as mobile phones are used without a mouse or keyboard. However, these problems are being overcome by the expansion of national grid, low cost, solar charged phones with good graphic interfaces, and improved standards of living to enable farmers afford mobile phone services.
M-agriculture is designed in a way that brings various resources together from numerous agricultural institutes and provides a unique platform to make agricultural knowledge and information available and accessible to rural communities and smallholder farmers.
Combined with more traditional media such as radio, innovative use of ICT tools like mobile phones, the Internet and iPods, makes Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) knowledge available and accessible to improve soil health, which would greatly increase agricultural production in sub Saharan Africa.
Already small-scale farmers in Africa are benefiting from call-in help centres and SMS services that provide market information and advisory services.
Mobile phone money transfer services (such as Mpesa in Kenya) offer immense possibilities for borderless, mobile commerce which would enhance socio-economic development and food security for rural agricultural communities.
Opportunities exist for mobile-based services that can enable farmers access ISFM information. For example, through text, audio and video downloads farmers can find information on availability and use of organic and inorganic fertilizers, improved seed varieties, other farm input and soil testing facilities. This way, farmers’ profits would improve with rapid increase in crop yield and improved standards of living.
Facts about mobile phones
Nigeria – 400,000 fixed phones were shared by 160 million people in 2000; by 2012 there were 60 million mobile phone subscribers
Africa – mobile phone market has expanded by 20% a year for the last five years
Internet speeds up increased 100 fold over past couple of years – whilst connectivity costs have dropped by 40%
Internet usage grew 2,527% between 2,000 and 2011 (world average 480%)
Source: John Arlidge – Sunday Times 26 February 2012
This raises some questions:
Do all actors involved in developing and delivering extension information collaborate in the best interests of the farmer to provide actionable information to prevent crop failure?
How can mobile phone technology help?
What can we learn from the Indian experience outlined in this blog?
Please let us know what you think and comment on the blog … e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org who will post your comments to our website.