Mobile communication technology has evolved so quickly and become one of the world’s most common way of transmitting information. In Sub-Saharan Africa there are more than 650 million people subscribed to mobile services. Imagine - how does a smallholder farmer in Africa gets updates on market trends, advice on farming technologies, interesting know-how and even weather condition?
Through subscribing to mobile services such as daily SMS text messaging or agricultural advisory hotlines, Mobile Agriculture (mAgri) is an efficient way to improve synergy between farmers, producer buyers, cooperatives, trading companies and other stakeholders along the value chain nowadays.
Innovative mobile technologies have transformed the lives of million small farmers. Mobile money services like M-PESA in Kenya and SMART Money in the Philippines allow farmers to organise finances via their mobile phones; E-Diary in Sri Lanka helps dairy farmers to get market information via SMS service. The new mobile platform Farmforce works beyond this. It was developed by the Syngenta Foundation in Switzerland two years ago and was launched in 2013 with the aim of linking small farmers (producers) to formal markets (production, compliances and traceability), where unreliable data and management information is always a common issue in these emerging markets.
Food safety standards = more paperwork?
Urban agriculture still has a ways to go in terms of answering the food security question meaning smallholders from rural areas produce the lion's share of food for increasing urban populations. Reported by The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), many small farmers are not able to respond to increased food demand because they lack access to assets and capital, and they face higher transaction costs. Nowadays, many food trading companies contract farmers’ groups for export produces such as coffee beans from Ethiopia or cocoa beans from Bolivia. At the same time, relying on exports means increasing sustainability requirements of food-safety and production system standards such as GlobalGAP, Fair trade or Organics. A lack of literacy skills or no means of proper filing can leae a farmer feeling helpless when trying to meet these requirements.
How cell phone changes small scale agriculture?
The centralised real-time IT platform Farmforce might resolve these problems. The cloud-based server enables farmers or field workers using second-generation (2G) phones or PC/laptop to upload data and inventory records of crops growing activities and animal calendar; to monitor training activities; to support micro insurance or loans for farmers; and to carry out mobile banking service. It not only helps companies to enhance produce traceability, but also reduces transaction costs for small farmers. Most of all, the paperless tool saves time by filling hundreds of pages of paper documents and, as we all know, time is money. Farmforce has already launched a few pilot projects in Africa and more will come up in Asia and Latin America. Meanwhile, the software is free for their clients; and users are usually trading companies for out-grower schemes in developing countries. Everyone wants to get a big bang for the buck invested in a business - the next step Famrforce may have to take is to charge its end users for the service in order to sustain the project in the long run.
Time will tell whether smartphone applications yield real results for farmers. .