Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Rethink Your Cellphone and the Global Food System

For many, cellphones are used for a few primary services; communicating with others and (if you own a smartphone) staying connected to the internet and often times your Facebook page. Yet for farmers in Sub-Sahara Africa, having a cellphone could mean the difference between making a profit on your crop in the global market or none at all. 

FoodTank, an organization that has created a network of connections and information that offer solutions to some of the most pressing issues of our food system, has highlighted five major ways cellphones are changing agriculture in this region of Africa. Check them out:

1) Access to market prices: Mobile phones allow farmers to gain access to vital information about prices of crops before they travel long distances to markets. Cell phone services employ SMS text messaging to quickly transfer accurate information about wholesale and retail prices of crops, ensuring farmers can  negotiate deals with traders and improve their timing of getting crops to the market. SokoniSMS64 is one popular service used in Kenya to provide farmers with accurate market prices from around the country.
2) Micro-insurance: Cell phones are also used for a “pay as you plant” type of insurance. Kilimo Salama, meaning “safe agriculture” in Swahili, is a micro-insurance company that protects farmers against poor weather conditions. The insurance is distributed through dealers who utilize camera phone technology to scan and capture policy information through a code using an advanced phone application. The information is then uploaded to Safaricom’s mobile cloud-based server that administers policies. Farmers can then receive information on their policy, as well as payouts based on rainfall, in SMS messages. This is a paperless, completely automated process. 
3) iCow from M-Farm: This cell phone application calls itself “the world’s first mobile phone cow calendar.” It enables farmers to keep track of each cow’s individual gestation so farmers never miss the valuable opportunity to expand their herd. iCow also keeps track of feed types and schedules, local veterinary contact information, and precise market prices of cattle. 
4) Instant weather information: Mobile technology provides farmers with crucial weather data so they can properly manage their crops. Programs such as Tigo Kilimo in Tanzania give small-scale farmers instant weather information combined with appropriate agricultural tips. 
5) CocoaLink: This app makes use of western Ghana’s rapidly expanding mobile network to deliver important information to cocoa farmers. The World Cocoa Foundation created this program to provide free voice and SMS text messages about farm safety, child labor, health, and improvements in farming practices, crop disease prevention, and crop marketing. Farmers receive messages in English or their local language. 
It is amazing to see how technology is being used all over the world for more purposes than what we are accustomed to. It is also interesting to note that while we advocate for sustainable agriculture and organic farming which tends to stray from the technological advances of the modern world such as those used in industrial agriculture, people of other areas of the world are utilizing technology in a way that advances their profits and maintains their livelihood of being a farmer.

Have a great afternoon!

Katie

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