Agriculture is no longer business as usual – especially for rural farmers. Rural farming systems are now transcending the labour-driven model and becoming more information-driven due to the wide adoption of ICTs especially mobile phones.
According to World Bank statistics, globally, agriculture is still the main livelihood source for more than 70 per cent of people living in rural areas. This group depend directly on the environment to support their farming system and provide food for their daily sustenance. However, the impact of climate change; introduction of invasive species; and natural resource depletion have undermined the resilience of many rural farming systems – especially in sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, rural farmers have become even more susceptible to food insecurity and poverty especially because they lack the relevant information and skills to mitigate or adapt to these dynamic issues.
While rural farming is becoming less resilient, there is an increasing pressure on agriculture to sustainably feed the growing global population using less land, less water and less energy. As the global population is expected to increase exponentially with an additional 1 billion people to feed by 2030, food shortages; water scarcity; and energy insufficiency, occurring simultaneously, might lead to global unrest. Prof. John Beddington called this a “perfect storm”.
There is no doubt that science, technology and research have been working together to improve agricultural systems so that they are more resilient and efficiently increase food production, but the challenge has been, and still is, transferring new knowledge and relevant innovation to those who need it the most i.e rural farmers.
On the brighter side, over the past decade, rural agriculture has made significant progress in leveraging on the wide spread of mobile networks and mobile phones to gain access to relevant information. In sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya has taken the lead in mainstreaming mobile phones into almost every aspect of rural agribusiness. Today, through mobile phones, mobile services or “m-services” such as; agri-finance; access to input and output markets; access to information on how to manage pest and disease; and weather forecasting can be easily accessed by rural farmers.
Sokopepe – provides an information system for the management of farm records. This has enabled subscribing farmers make more informed farm management decisions based on actual reports. These report show trends in their production and profit; farming practices; changes in markets for their products; as well as weather fluctuations. This reports can be valuable in gaining access to credit and insurance markets. Sokopepe also provide market information on input and produce price, and help link small scale farmers to large scale aggregators.
M-Pesa: M-Pesa (moblie money) is a mobile banking service provided by safaricomm. This platform that enables users use their mobile phones to pay for goods and services; perform third party money transfers; deposits and withdrawals from a mobile account. Initially launched in Kenya, M-Pesa has been scaled out to Tanzania, Afghanistan, South Africa, India, Mozambique, Egypt and Lesotho.
M-Farm which offers price information and marketing services to Kenyan farmers
Various applications of ICTs to agricultural systems are being scaled out across sub-Saharan Africa. However, the level of adoption and successful application of these ICT innovations largely depends on the availability of enabling policies which support public private partnerships as well as the availability of the required ICT infrastructures to facilitate the delivery of m-services. In Kenya, the removal of the Value Added Tax (VAT) on mobile phones,
There is still a lot to be done, in terms of extending the use of mobile phones to support rural agribusiness in Africa. However, the current ICT ecosystem (Baumüller, H (2016) in Africa is proving to be moving at a significant pace showing great potential as a means of addressing the information and digital divide in agricultural systems between the global north and south.
Baumüller, H (2016) Agricultural Service Delivery Through Mobile Phones: Local Innovation and Technological Opportunities in Kenya In: Gatzweiler F., von Braun J. (eds) Technological and Institutional Innovations for Marginalized Smallholders in Agricultural Development. Springer, Cham