It’s been sometime since I touched on the topic of mobile phones and farming. It’s that time now.
More than 40% of the worlds working population is engaged in agriculture. That’s a lot of people. And a lot of these folks now have mobile phones. Thanks to the declining cost curve and “pay as you go” plans. BTW, as an aside, one of the key reasons as to why mobile phones have been very successful in the developing world is due to the construct(s) of various service plans. Most are designed around “pay as you go”. I think the US has one of the most stifling voice and data plans in the world, where MNO’s tend to lock post-paid subscribers with these 2-year plans. But things are changing in the US as well.
But I digress. Back to the topic at hand. While Nokia may have lost the coveted crown in the smartphone market , it still is the reigning monarch of the BoP (Bottom of the so called Pyramid). It’s phones have proven to be very reliable, cheap and efficient in those markets. And yes, I am referring to those pesky feature phones. But, why do I bring this up? Because, many of the M4D apps that target the BoP are being developed on the Nokia Symbian/Windows platform. BTW, M4D stands for Mobile ‘for’ Development.
This is relevant because, in this post I want to shine to the spotlight on few such apps and services that are helping the farmers. In my past posts, I did talk about how mobile technology is helping tackle the issue of information asymmetry in the farming community by providing farmers vital market pricing information. Additionally, I had also mentioned how ICT is helping farmers by providing them up to date weather information. By providing a value added channel for relevant information, mobile phones have quickly become an invaluable tool for the farmer.
Take ‘mKisan’ for instance. This is a service that was developed to help small farmers readily access relevant, high quality and timely information related to their farming practices. The service has launched in 6 states across India (with language coverage) and aims to cover ~ 1Million farmers. The project has been funded by the GSMA M4D foundation and is being executed by mVAS (mobile Value Added Service) provider Handygo Technologies.
‘mKisan’ is primarily SMS based and includes comprehensive information and advice on a wide range of relevant topics including crops and livestock. The service is also defined by radid agricultural bulletins comprising agro-met advisory, information on market prices, pest and disease alerts and a dedicated farmer helpline (IVR). In addition to this, the project also aims to test video-based advisory and knowledge sharing tools for farmers. Content is provided by partners such as IRLI (International Livestock Research Institute), while Handygo serves as the major promoter for this service.
In Tanzania, their pre-eminent MNO, Tigo recently launched the Tigo Kilimo service. Tigo Kilimo helps the farmer get up to date pricing and weather information via SMS. This is again a VAS that is targeted to the farming community. Tigo also actively promotes Tigo Pesa, a M-Pesa sort of model to help transfer money using mobile phones.
SokoniSMS64 is a SMS service in Kenya, launched by the Kenyan Agriculture Commodities Exchange and Safaricom, goes a step further and allows for farmers to negotiate deals with traders in addition to leveling the pricing asymmetry problem. In Kenya again, iCow is yet another innovative service that uses mobile phones to enable a farmer the track a cow’s individual gestation to prevent lost opportunities to help expand their herd. iCow was winner of Apps4Africa – 2010. Apps4Africa is an accelerator program for both for-profit and non-profit apps that target African countries. Further, the iCow app also helps track things like feed type, nutrition info, milk prices, calf/cattle disease and remediation info, immunization schedules, cattle market prices, vet info etc. SafariCom helps serve as the primary delivery vehicle for the App. iCow has been billed as the “worlds first mobile phone cow calendar”. Moooo!!!
Staying true to agriculture or rather agri-automation, “nano Ganesh” is a connected system built in India that helps operate water pumps in fields via mobile phones and land-lines. Farmers are now able to operate their pumps from long distances enabling them to be more efficient by conserving water and electricity among other aspects. Check out this “nano Ganesh” video that explains it all…
This is a really cool application that brings a lot of technical elements together to help farmers. While the tech community is abuzz with bleeding edge connected technologies (aka IoT or Internet of Things), this seeming low-tech implementation is a real boon to farmers in developing nations. Take that IoT – Pow!!
Alrighty then, it’s time wrap up. I will keep watching more of such cool stories for you. Until then….