On Wednesday 25th April 2012, m:lab East Africa hosted the second Wireless Wednesday meetup in a series aimed at promoting the use of mobile technology in agriculture. The theme of the meetup was “using technology to overcome post harvest challenges in horticulture”.
Mobile developers, entrepreneurs and other enthusiasts of mobile technology use in agriculture engaged agricultural domain experts from the grassroots in a lively discussion. Three farmers growing fruits and vegetables in the South Eastern part of Kenya contributed their thoughts and insights especially on the post harvest challenges that farmers are often faced with. A community based food processor - Chuluni Growers and Processors from Kitui County enriched the debate by sharing insights on challenges facing processors and other stakeholders in the post harvest stage of the agricultural value chain. A representative from KIVA also shared information on credit financing opportunities the non-profit organization presents to farmers and other entrepreneurs.
A summary of key observations made during the meetup is as follows :-
1. Awareness and uptake of mobile tools for agriculture
Most farmers are unaware of the existence of market transparency and productivity tools using mobile technology such as Mfarm, iCow, FarmPal and Mkulima Calc. Awareness creation, and driving uptake of these tools continue to be a priority for mobile entrepreneurs, farmers and other stakeholders.
In the two agriculture focussed meetups held so far in the year, younger farmers were quick to single out mobile technology as the way out for delivering information services to farmers. An opportunity was noted therefore to target the emerging class of younger farmers to drive initial uptake of mobile solutions for agriculture.
It was observed that uptake of mobile solutions for agriculture is not necessarily impeded by illiteracy or cost of devices and services. As with the case of M-PESA, adoption of mobile technologies in agriculture was noted to be driven by farmers’ demand to access information services on mobile devices. Participants noted that adoption of technology by farmers could be accelerated through awareness creation and capacity building among farmers by community workers.
2. Technologically organized groups of farmers and agro-processors
As the discussion of challenges faced by farmers and agro-processors went on, it was increasingly apparent they struggle to organise themselves into groups. For instance a tomato farmer in the meetup wished they could be linked up with other tomato farmers to make tomato paste when prices are low. Grouping of farmers was seen to be useful in facilitating collective produce storage, transportation and bargaining with buyers. Benefits of groups among farmers were also seen to revolve around knowledge sharing and access to information.
Community based agro-processors also experienced challenges managing their membership. These challenges affect access to produce for processing and contributions from members. Further this threatens the existence and sustainability of such community based organizations.
Where players in the agricultural value chain succeed to form groups based on geographical proximity and special interests, the groups often experience challenges such as difficulties in communication, governance and access to information for the groups. Participants noted that creation and optimal running of stakeholder groupings can be facilitated through through mobile technology solutions. Mobile developers and entrepreneurs were challenged to create mobile platforms for farmers and other players in agriculture addressing the above needs.
3. Agro-processor Financing Challenges
Challenges noted among community based agro-processors included accessing capital for acquiring refrigeration and modern food processing facilities. This was noted to relate to access to information on opportunities such as grants, debt and equity financing. Such information could be publicly available but is not easily accessible to community groups operating away from capital cities and major towns. An opportunity therefore existed for mobile solutions to facilitate dissemination of such information on raising funds for capital investment and expansion among community based agro-processing organizations.
The topic of middle-men continued to elicit varied reactions among participants. The matter was highlighted in a previous Wireless Wednesday event. Many participants in the meetup continued to consider middlemen as being exploitative of farmers. Some participants also noted the middleman’s action of aggregating produce and providing transportation to markets as being facilitative to the agricultural ecosystem.
The next wireless wednesday meetup on using mobile technology for agriculture is scheduled for 27th June 2012. The theme and further details for the event will be announced through the Pivot East and iHub blogs.
In East Africa, mobile developers and entrepreneurs have in the recent past attempted to introduce new innovations intended to inject efficiencies in the agricultural value chain. It is in an effort to amplify these attempts and their potential impact that m:lab East Africa has got support from USAID to organize a series of “Wireless Wednesday” meetups throughout the year. The focus group discussions are aimed at facilitating knowledge sharing between developers and subject matter experts in agriculture. Wireless Wednesday meetups are also opportunities for networking among mobile developers, entrepreneurs, domain practitioners and development partners. The expected outcome of these events in increased development and uptake of mobile innovations to improve productivity and livelihoods in the agricultural sector. Results of this are already being seen as is described in this Business Daily Article.