A Global Agricultural Research Partnership

Mobile phones helping farmers make better decisions

pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT)
Eric Owandu with his mobile phone, an increasingly popular tool with many smallholder farmers

Mobile phones are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in many developing countries, and not just in urban areas. More and more smallholder farmers are now harnessing the power of the telephone to help them connect to agricultural services, information and markets. A few quick presses on the keypad of a mobile phone costing as little as US$10 is all it takes for some farmers to obtain information about the optimum time to plant their seeds, or the right way to keep pests at bay, or the best market in which to sell their produce …

Text messages boosting maize yields

Eric Owandu, a farmer in western Kenya’s Gem District, decided to take part in a regional trial of the new E-Farming text message service seven months ago, and he is now ready to reap the benefits. The service provides Eric with advice on crop management, the different maize varieties available, the right fertilizers to use, etc.

“I would urge other farmers to join,” says Eric, with this season’s maize crop towering several feet above him. “Now, you can see what my shamba [field] looks like; this service has helped me a lot to improve my production.”

E-Farming was established last year and is run by the African Soil Information Service (AfSIS), an initiative led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT – a member of the CGIAR Consortium). Still in its pilot phase, the effectiveness of the text messaging service is currently being assessed.

Read the full story in a report published in the New Agriculturist.

Making the right call

Since its debut in the Philippines in 2011, Nutrient Manager for RiceMobile (NMRiceMobile), has been providing rice farmers and extension workers with free fertilizer guidelines via their mobile phones. All they have to do is call a toll-free number to get advice on the right type and quantity of fertilizer to use on their rice crops, as well as the right time to apply it. The information can help maximize production and profits, and reduce waste.

The nutrient needs of the crop can vary, even across short distances within and among fields,” says Dr. Roland Buresh, a nutrient management expert at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI – a member of the CGIAR Consortium) and the lead developer of NMRiceMobile. “Insufficient application of fertilizers can result in loss of yield and profit, whereas too much can reduce profit and can also increase risks to the environment.

NMRiceMobile, which uses interactive voice response technology, was developed and launched by IRRI working in partnership with the Philippine Department of Agriculture.  Farmers and extension workers receive instructions in English or their preferred local language of Tagalog, Cebuano, or Ilocano.

Another mobile phone application based on the same system was recently launched in Indonesia. PHSL, as it is known locally, was field-tested with more than 300 rice farmers across nine provinces in the country

Farmers in all provinces increased their rice yields and net income when switching from their current fertilizer practice to the practice recommended by PHSL,” says Dr. Buresh. “In most cases, the increase in net income for farmers exceeded US$100 per hectare per season.

Read more in this IRRI report.

Looking to strengthen farmer-extension-expert-linkages in India

Over in India, the recently launched m-Kisan project is developing a comprehensive agro-advisory service for smallholders using mobile devices. Working in partnership with one of the country’s leading mobile value-added service providers, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI – a member of the CGIAR Consortium) will provide quality content mainly for small scale dairy, poultry and goat farming. As well as giving farmers affordable and effective advice on relevant crop and livestock topics, the project will provide a platform for service providers, interest groups and experts alike to exchange knowledge and experiences of interest to the majority of farmers in each of the country’s six participating states. Additional information will be provided by CABI and Digital Green.

With nearly six billion mobile phone subscriptions in the world today, and four out of every five new connections taking place in developing countries, it makes sense to harness the power of mobile telephony to overcome barriers to agricultural information and extension services and reach as many smallholder farmers as possible. Moreover, initiatives that promote the use of the mobile telephone to help  farmers maximize their resources will surely go a long way to helping feed a projected population of nine billion people in 2050.

Further reading:
Cell phone salvation for Third World farmers
Invigorating Sri Lankan agriculture with wells and cell phones
Innovate against hunger: access and adoption of tools, practices and opportunities

Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT)

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