Ensuring better rural futures through improved access to information

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




Why I choose a career in agricultural research

I developed an interest in agriculture during my high school days simply because I was curious about the food production process and the people who produced food. As result, the decision to study agricultural economics as an undergraduate came easy to me. My parents, being typical Africa parents, wanted me to study medicine, but I couldn’t stand the smell of hospitals and honestly, I don’t like needles. Continue reading

Development paradigms: an evaluation of the green, gene and digital revolution

Biofortification –  from Franz W. Gatzweiler and Joachim von Braun (2016) – Technological and Institutional Innovations for Marginalized Smallholders in Agricultural Development
In the area of FNS, biotechnology plays a supportive role through tissue culture in
the quest for more effective and beneficial traits and genetic engineering technology.
Genetic engineering has been used widely but has mostly concentrated on
increasing resistance to environmental stresses, pests, and diseases. However,
recent developments in biotechnology have moved in another direction: high
yield crops and more nutritious crops and animal products. In order to bring some
of these benefits to the poor, who typically lack access to nutritious foods, such as
fruits, vegetables, and animal source foods (fish, meat, eggs, and dairy products)
and rely heavily on staple foods, there is a need for staple-related biotechnology.
One of the new platform technologies in this area is biofortification, a process of
introducing nutrients into staple foods. Biofortification can be conducted through conventional plant breeding, agronomic practices such as the application of fertilizers
to increase zinc and selenium content, or transgenetic techniques (Bouis
et al. 2011). The smallholder farmers cultivate a large variety of food crops
developed by national agricultural research centers with the support of the Consultative
Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). One of the global
initiatives for biofortification is known as HarvestPlus.3 Biofortification provides a
large outreach, as it is accessible to the malnourished rural population which is less
exposed to the fortified food in markets and supplementation programs. By design,
biofortification initially targets the more remote population in the country and is
expanded later to urban populations. To be successful, i.e., to improve people’s
absorption and assimilation of micronutrients, biofortification should meet several
challenges, some of which require additional accompanying interventions: successful
breeding in terms of high yields and profitability, making sure nutrients of
biofortified staple foods are preserved during processing and cooking, the degree of
adoption and acceptance by farmers and consumers, and the coverage rate (the
proportion of biofortified staples in production and consumption) (Nestel
et al. 2006; Meenakshi et al. 2010; Bouis et al. 2011). The development of
biofortification is outlined in Table 3.2. In the case of food processing, Meenakshi
et al. (2010) estimated that the greatest processing losses are in the case of cassava
in Africa, where the loss of vitamin A during the cooking process is between 70 %
and 90 %. For other staple crops such as sweet potato and rice, the processing loss
can be anticipated, as both staple foods are consumed in boiled form.
Biofortification has been implemented in several countries of Asia and Africa
(Table 3.3). A number of crops are biofortified, including rice, wheat, maize,
cassava, pearl millet, beans, and sweet potato, depending on the national context.
Biofortification is found to be cost-effective in terms of the moderate breeding
costs, which amount to approximately 0.2 % of the global vitamin A supplementation
(Beyer 2010), while the benefit is far higher than the cost.4 Compared with
other types of interventions, such as supplementation and food fortification,
biofortification seems more cost-effective.5 Nevertheless, biofortification is not
without its limitations, as it might not be viable for application in all plants. For
instance, from a breeding perspective, the breeding system of some plants is very
complex (Beyer 2010). In Uganda, banana is the primrary staple food, accounting for
a per capita per year consumption of nearly 200 kg. However, the vitamin and