Mobile technology sows the seed

Like most smallholders, 43-year-old Takawira Chuma from Gokwe in Midlands province works hard. He endures the scorching sun, battles with the hard soil, but still stays poor. Finding a profitable market for his produce isn’t easy.

“I’m an all-rounder farmer who produces cotton, tobacco and vegetables. It is everyone’s desire to produce, make a profit and sustain a living through farming, but we remain far from it as we struggle to find a better market for our produce,” Chuma said.

Sometimes stuck with produce he can’t sell, at other times he fails to produce enough to feed his five children and barely manages to send them to school.

For others, however, technology has brought huge opportunities.

Leading the charge in introducing technology and mobile-based platforms and solutions for farmers in Zimbabwe is Zimbabwean telecoms tycoon Strive Masiyiwa, whose Econet Wireless group has unveiled a weather indexed insurance scheme called EcoFarmer.

According to Econet corporate communications manager, Rangarirai Mberi, the scheme allows a farmer to buy insurance for as little as eight cents a day, which is deducted from their prepaid phone account during the agricultural season. If the rain fails and there’s drought, the farmer gets as much as $100 for every 10kg seed pack planted.

Econet partnered with Seed Co, a leading maize seed production company, to produce seed packs that contain a special number that the farmer must text. As soon as Econet receives the number, they know exactly where the farmer is located.

Charles Dhewa, an entrepreneur based in Harare and founder of innovative systems company, Knowledge-Transfer Africa, has also created a service for farmers. “This is a call centre to connect farmers, traders, transporters and agro dealers, consumers and value chain companies in more than 20 markets around Zimbabwe via mobile phones. One of the stations is at Mbare Msika market in Harare, which is the main trading market for farmers in Zimbabwe. The organisation started operating in 2012 with fewer than 500 members and the number has grown to 100,000 to date,” Dhewa said.

Agricultural experts have been predicting that lack of information for smallholder farmers has greatly affected productivity and worsened their capacity to produce enough to improve their lifestyles.

“Rural farmers, due to their geographical location which is inaccessible and remote and low literacy levels, tend to be left out in terms of information,” agricultural expert Silvester Ngodi said. “Agriculture is a profession and the introduction of ICT developments is the best innovation that can aid farmers in being productive. ICT is not as complex as we imagine and the use of simple devices such as mobile phones creates a platform which connects the farmers, their markets and agricultural experts,” said Matheas Zindoga, a farmer based in Mtawatawa, Murehwa.

Zindoga admits that lack of information makes it difficult to make profitable decisions because many farmers simply don’t know where to sell their products. “Sometimes we end up selling to those who come to our doorsteps, even if they offer low prices,” Zindoga added.

However, according to agricultural analysts, a simple device like a mobile phone can transform the life of a common farmer.

“The number of cases of rotting vegetables in Mutoko or bananas in Chipinge will be reduced as farmers will know the prevailing prices and negotiate from the point of knowledge and therefore increase incomes,” said Silvester Ngodi. According to observers, Zimbabwe has become one of the countries in the sub-Saharan Africa to experience growth in the use and adaptation of technology, with the prospect that agriculture could become more sophisticated and enterprising.

“We are slowly coming up with innovative ways to improve how smallholder farmers interact and do business,” says Harare-based agricultural engineer George Hove.

Post published in: Agriculture
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