Platform for African – European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Technology no silver bullet for Africa’s farming challenges

9 July 2015. Nairobi, Kenya. Source: How we made it in Africa.

Africa is seeing a surge in mobile phone-based solutions promising to revolutionise the agricultural industry. Technology entrepreneurs have developed mobile platforms offering a variety of solutions, including online livestock and produce exchanges, weather forecasts, market prices data, and access to insurance, financing and extension services.

It seems like the perfect intersection: millions of people in Africa have mobile phones, the majority of the population is involved in agriculture, and there are multiple problems in the industry to solve. But many of these solutions have struggled to meet expectations and remain unknown to the majority of rural farmers.
“Some people think technology is a silver bullet for the challenges in agriculture. But technology is not a stand-alone solution. Its success depends on other things, including the attitude and discipline of the farmer. There are people who farm because they don’t want to let their land lie idle, or because all their neighbours are farming, or because farming is what their family has done for generations. The way they go about farming is different from that of serious, passionate farmers who know what they are doing. So the farmer’s attitude and motivation does matter. (...) 
We started with an app, but the uptake was very low because most farmers were using feature phones. We wanted to continue using mobile phones as our main tool so we shifted focus to SMS,” Calvince Okello, founder of M-Shamba, a platform that provides farmers in Kenya information on crop production and farm management.
Related: 
13 July 2015. ICT4Ag: improving their use in farmer cooperatives
CTA is exploring various models by which ICT4Ag-enabled services are delivered through its current initiative on Building Viable Delivery Models for ICT4Ag
  • One aspect of this initiative is to understand the nature of the value-added service (VAS) provider – including the private sector, the public sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), research institutes and farmer organisations. 
  • Analysis of over 300 ICT4Ag applications collated by CTA reveals that fewer than five of the value-added service providers represent farmers themselves. 
  • While ICTs may be integral in fulfilling the lobbying, networking, administrative, accounting and access functions of farmer organisations, there are opportunities for farmer organisations and cooperatives to change from being service receivers to service providers for their members.

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