6.8.1 Support IT Solutions for Agriculture – Find Roles for Young People

If the image of an African farmer scrolling through her SMS/text messages to get the latest prices for maize in the three closest markets seems far-fetched, think again. SMS delivery of daily, local price information has been available to Ugandan farmers for five years at very affordable rates. As in this example, some kinds of information and technologies are widely available and relevant to small-scale farmers. In other situations, information brokers are more appropriate. They can access and deliver more customized, complex information.  When coupled with hands-on advice and/or market linkages, the information becomes even more actionable. While young farmers and traders can certainly benefit directly from agricultural IT applications, some young leaders are finding opportunities in developing IT solutions that deliver information to farmers, and/or in filling this “IT broker” role. Young people are also finding roles in the Ag-IT field as application developers and entrepreneurs who market them. 

Ag-IT

FIT Uganda[1] operates AgMIS in all 4 regions of Uganda.The service delivers agricultural marketing information to farmers, agribusinesses and stakeholders through 11 platforms including website, SMS, radio, print, and in-person through farmers associations.

Also in Uganda, the Grameen Foundation[2] launched the Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) initiative in 2009. The CKW combines mobile technology and human networks to help smallholder farmers get accurate, timely information to improve their businesses and their livelihoods. CKWs are farmers themselves, but earn income by providing advice to other farmers, and by carrying out surveys on behalf of university, public and private partners. Their resources include their smartphones through which they access information on-line, and a call center where they can turn for more in-depth advice. If staff at the call center cannot answer a question, they research it and get back to the CKW. The CKW initiative has served 176,000 farmers through 1,100 peer advisors. 

In India, ITC[3] “e-Choupal” is a web-based initiatives offering farmers information, products and services to enhance productivity, reduces costs and realize higher farm-gate prices.  Farmers access the services via village-based kiosks managed by a broker that represents ITC, a large agri-business. The broker operates a computer powered by a solar unit and connected to the internet via cell phone. The broker helps farmers research agricultural advice, provides information about agro-inputs, and shows farmers available market prices for their crops. If the farmers want to, they can order inputs and sell their crops through the agri-business. They can also purchase consumer good available from the company. As a social benefit, the brokers allow village members, including children, to use the internet, and he shows them how. Launched in 2000, e-Choupals serve 40,000 villages with millions of farmers, in 10 Indian states.

Mshabma, Kenya[4]: Inspired by the devastation of the 2011 famine, Simeon Ogonda launched MShamba to help millions of Kenyan farmers improve productivity and food security.  MShamba is a mobile phone application, text message or interactive voice response service that provides farmers with agricultural information available through research institutions, government extension officers, and university research departments.   Farmers access information directly or through extension agents and agro-input dealers who access MSamba. By making valuable but easy-to-use information more widely available, Simeon envisions significant and widespread impact. For example, some 5,000 rice farmers used information obtained through MSamba to increase yields by 150% while lowering their cost of production.   



[1] FIT Uganda is a development consulting firm that catalyzes growth of the SME sector by contributing to its productivity and innovativeness.  www.fituganda.com ; www.infotradeuganda.com

[2] Grameen Foundation was founded in 1997 to help the world’s poor address their own unique needs.

[3]ITC is a leading Indian corporation with a mission to enhance the wealth generating capability of the enterprise in a globalising environment, delivering superior and sustainable stakeholder value www.itcportal.com

[4]MShamba is an initiative of Spring Break Kenya, which aims at community Integration by building trans-formative networks and partnerships between students in Institutions of Higher Learning with rural communities in Kenya.