Mobile Technology – Helping the farmer (2)

It has happened again! Due to a number of reasons I had to take a hiatus from my writings. Couldn’t help it! But now I am back with the hope that I will be engaged with my writings for a while.

In keeping my focus on the social impact of mobile technology, I want to continue exploring the impact of mobile technology on farming. In my readings and research on this subject, the thing that fascinates me is the fact that most of the innovation in this field is happening in the developing world. And for good reason. And the reason is information asymmetry. In the developed world, for the most part, information has the same potential. Meaning,  information moves from the source to the destination in full and at speed. Perhaps not in all aspects, but in most cases, information is readily available either on demand or otherwise. And, that is not the case in the developing world. And this asymmetry can have many consequences.

One comment I would like to make to about the developing world (Coming from a developing country myself,  I am perhaps qualified to make this statement) is that people get used to the system in their respective regions to the point wherein they do not know any better. In short, they get used to the existing system and adapt. This tendency results in a sort of command and control system, where the powers that be (the broker, government officials, law enforcement, politicians, businessmen etc) can exert tremendous influence over systems, processes and people in a manner that favors vested interests causing socio-economic inequity. I know, I am oversimplifying the various socio-political forces that, in most cases, have existed for decades if not longer. That is until, something revolutionary (person/ideology/technology) comes along. And I would rate mobile technology to be one such pivotal force. ICT has been a driving force of change in many communities . People now see this as very viable change agent that is non-threatening, meaning that the socio-political forces have no person/NGO/movement/ideology to blame or to pit their forces against. And the funny thing is that these forces don’t realize that technology can be a very powerful change agent. And when access to technology is allowed, in most cases it serves as a detriment to these powerful forces. At which point it is too late for them.  Ok..that was my little plug – back to the article.. 🙂

Most of the solutions that are currently being explored in the developed world that pertain to agri-businesses addresses information asymmetry in some shape or form. In one of my previous posts, I had talked about price dispersion in that the farmers from the same region could be quoted different prices for their crop. And it is quite remarkable that in many developing countries, efforts are underway to address just this pain point. As a direct consequence of these mobile solutions, farmers have on average seen an increase in their incomes by 10 to 15%. Reuters Market Light (RML) in India (covered briefly in my previous post) and Grameen AppLab in Uganda are two good examples.

To help the farmer with crop disease and meteorological information that is current and accurate, mobile technology is being used. In my post about Kilimo Salama, the system included as solar powered weather station, that helps aggregate information from farming communities and enables relevant information to be SMS’d back to the farmers. While analysis of national weather patterns may be good, many farming regions separated by just a few  miles often have their own micro-climates. Timely information about weather changes in these micro-climates is immensely useful to the farmer and in many cases they are willing to pay for this service. In Turkey, farmers in the Kastamanu province are beneficiaries of a project that does just that. The project also collects information about soil conditions, humidity, temperature, cloud-cover etc and sends them on a periodic basis to farmers of this region  – useful for farmers who plant weather sensitive crops such as grapes that is used for wine making.

You will agree that there is power in numbers . In many countries cooperatives are forming that helps aggregating farmers with smaller land holdings. These cooperatives allow for economies of scale in not only taking crops to market, but in also sharing useful information about diseases and remedies, farm inputs, weather, pricing etc. The Mobile Information Project in Chile uses SMS to empower the small farmer in conjunction with COOPEUMO farmers cooperative. It runs two services – “DatAgro” (provides targeted weather updates) and “Yo Agricultor” (Web portal with messaging to send updates). Net-net, these services tend to improve productivity and profitability for the small farmer.

This is a very fascinating topic that definitely deserves attention. I will cover some additional developments in this arena in my future posts relating to this topic.

It’s good to be back!!

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