Five Ways Cell Phones are Changing Agriculture in Africa

A Maasai pastoralist in Kenya utilizes his mobile phone to keep tabs on his herd (Sven Torfinn)

Sub-Saharan Africa now has more than 650 million mobile phone subscribers. Mobile technology is especially transformative for the agriculture sector. Here are five important ways cell phones are changing African agriculture:

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. 

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