Mobile technology creating new opportunities in agriculture and agribusiness

With more than 25 million mobile users in Kenya and more than 75% of the entire 39million Kenyans living in rural areas, mobile phones becomes an important bridge to get rural communities connected. One such critical rural population is the small-scale farmers. They would want to know the prices of food, the best agricultural practices to use, rapid response on disease outbreaks and what to do to contain the diseases, where they can sell their produce, get cheap inputs among other needs.  

Mobile information platform is one technology that is helping farmers make decisions, increase productivity and improve incomes.  

With M-Farm, the farmer has acces to a short code 3555. Using the short code, a farmer anywhere in the country, can know the prices of different crops in the major markets. In addition, a farmer is able to sell his or her produce using the same mobile short code. The first service is a real-time daily price information and the second is a selling together service. The ‘selling together’ is an agricultural trading platform.  

Other technologies that have made life easy for smallholders farmers as well as traders includes mobile money transfer, micro-insurance systems where using the mobile, farmers are helped to get certified seed, access extension advise over the farmers' helpline and the insurance company can monitor weather conditions and advise farmers on what to grow to reduce risks. Mobile payment records can be used as proof of credit history and the mobile payment systems are a supporting technology.  

The real innovation however, that will boost Agriculture, is an integrated system where one mobile technology panel is available to farmers in a kind of a ‘One Stop Farmer Store’ where the farmers can access any kind of information at will on their mobile phones. This will be the perfect way to connect farmers in an integrated manner.

Using the ‘Mobile Technology Panel’ farmers are able to get best deals on farm inputs, study changing trends in food availability and use that as an opportunity to plant certain crops, connect with buyers and sell to highest bidder. Farmers can use their financial activities on the mobile payments to prove their creditworthiness and also connect with other farmers where they can exchange information or do barter trade. On the same panel farmers can have virtual groups that trade together as well as gain access to bigger markets. This goes to show there is still untapped potential in the mobile technology development for the agribusiness sector.  

The only challenge is farmer literacy. New applications are now available on our phones but most farmers do not know how to use them for their benefit. Numerous studies have shown that texting is not the preferred way of communication for most farmers yet most of these technologies are text-based. 

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