The Digital Potential: How Cell Phones Can Increase Agricultural Revenue
Machines have steadily become an integral part of our lives. Right from the days of the industrial revolution, man has steadily improved upon primitive versions of mechanical aids, powered by engines and fuelled by varying energy sources.
Agriculture has also evolved through the impact of mechanization on the industry. There are tractors, ploughs, harrows and the others, which have replaced the ancient bulls, hoes, and axes.
Why can’t cell phones be seen as good for the farmer’s business too?
If machines can have a positive impact on agriculture, why can’t technology also influence the industry’s sustainability? The announcement made early in January 2013, that farmers in Nigeria would be getting 10 million mobile phones from the government, as part of its Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) for the agricultural sector, has been greeted with arguments based on farmers’ literacy.
The GES, organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, had been designed to help small-scale farmers gain access to agricultural inputs (particularly fertilizers, improved seedlings, and agrochemicals) at government-subsidized rates which were to be accessed using an electronic voucher sent to the farmer’s phone. The aim was to cut the waste and corruption that had turned the fertilizer and seedling distribution process into something akin to a charade.
The impact of this program was astounding- 8.1 million metric tons were added to the domestic food supply, according to Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, the Minister for Agriculture at that time. Cell phones, deployed in conjunction with a well-devised policy, brought about a visible improvement of farmers’ fortunes.
It is a known fact that mobile phone use in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in eastern African countries such as Kenya and Uganda, has grown by leaps and bounds within two decades. Farmers on the continent have taken advantage of this device in many innovative ways. They are able to obtain vital market information such as prices, as well as important details pertaining to weather conditions via SMS. Younger farmers may, and have also been able to use social media to communicate and bridge the gap caused by rural isolation.
Available data shows that most of the transactions done by farmers over the phone have been carried out using local languages; Information can be delivered to them in these languages. There is also a noted willingness on the part of farmers to learn to use the mobile phone if they are told about how it will benefit them.
Mobile phones have given a new face to the definition of technology and have a wider reach. They are increasingly accessible and intelligent tools. Perhaps nowhere is its impact needed as in rural areas, granting the poor access to, and share information.
ICT, and indeed mobile phones can move the world and especially Africa towards achieving zero hunger (SDG 2).