The “mobile revolution” helps African farmers


Over the past recent years, the mobile phone has become the most widely used digital tool in Africa; and more and more initiatives intend to make it an efficient support to the continent’s farmers’ work


Africa is experiencing a true “mobile revolution,” in the words of Mark Kaigwa, a consultant, technologist and blogger based in Nairobi. According to Informa Telecom, the continent is on track to hit one billion mobile subscriptions by 2015; it is the world’s second most connected region to mobile phone networks. Indeed, cellphones overcome weak or non-existent landline infrastructure in large swaths of the world’s poorest continent. They are cheaper than computers and enable people to stay connected while on the move. In Kenya, for instance, phones have become an important tool for bank transactions thanks to M-PESA, a money transfer service launched by Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile operator, and Vodafone in 2007. It allows people to pay their bills, to buy goods or to receive remittances from relatives living abroad. This service is about to be implemented in other countries. Mobile phones also provide interesting services in education, especially in South Africa, and in the health sector, for instance in Uganda.

Agriculture, a key sector to develop phone facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa

Agriculture is a key sector in Sub-Saharan Africa as it employs 65% of the workforce and accounts for 32% of the Gross Domestic Product of the region, according to the World Bank. Which makes it a privileged target for mobile phone innovations that aim to make the life of farmers easier, notably through improving their productivity. On May 25th 2014, Nigerian computer scientist Abdou Maman presented his invention, a remote irrigation system that allows farmers to command the watering of their fields while they are away, simply through their mobile phone. The innovation is expected to help farmers make time for other activities: attend to the cattle, clear new plots, sell their products in neighbouring villages, etc. But Abdou Maman is not the only one who’s had the idea to facilitate the farmers’ work thanks to mobile phones. There already exists a series of services:

– Platforms to share weather information, like Tigo Kilimo in Tanzania;

– SMS services which give farmers access to the prices of crops before they travel long distances to the markets: SokoniSMS64, for instance, is a popular service used in Kenya to provide farmers with accurate market prices from around the country;

– Micro insurance schemes such as Kilimo Salama, developed to protect farmers against poor weather conditions by providing them information about the policy of their region and payouts based on rainfalls;

– Specialised networks such as CocoaLink, which connect cocoa farmers through free SMSs in order to spread information on market prices, health issues, farm safety, etc.;

– A model of cow calendar named iCow, launched by start-up M-Farm, which enables farmers to keep track of each cow’s individual gestation;

– Etc.

Mobile phone applications thus help farmers make better decisions, become more productive and develop their higher-earning potential. In a more global approach, “mobile experiences are re-creating existing industries, helping the continent narrow the digital divide and helping its young people lead the charge in the adoption of mobile technology solutions globally,” according to Nmachi Jdenma, founder of Celebrating Progress Africa. In other words, phone is a promising support to stimulate innovation and development in Africa.

Photo © Shutterstock /erichon