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Connected agriculture – mobile technology and small farmers

A Maasai pastoralist checks his mobile phone in southern Kenya. Photo: Sven Torfinn
A Maasai pastoralist checks his mobile phone in southern Kenya. Photo: Sven Torfinn

Connected Agriculture is a new report produced by Vodafone, with input from Oxfam and Accenture, looking at the role of mobile tehnology in driving efficiency and sustainability in the food and agriculture value chain. Barbara Stocking, the CEO of Oxfam, wrote the following foreword:

Oxfam welcomes this report. Its focus on the opportunity to improve agricultural productivity using mobile services highlights the opportunity to bring new investment to a key group: smallholder farmers. Oxfam recognises that mobile telephony could have significant potential to help the poorest farmers towards greater food and income security.

An estimated 1.5 to 2 billion people worldwide are dependent on smallholder agriculture and these smallholders include half the world’s under-nourished people. Investment that can increase the productivity and incomes of smallholders – particularly female smallholders – remains the best opportunity for these 1.5 to 2 billion people worldwide to feed themselves and trade their way out of poverty.

Investment in agriculture is complex, but has huge potential to impact the major development issues we face today: climate change and hunger; economic growth and gender inequity; poor health and nutrition; and environmental sustainability. Investing in smallholder agriculture lies at the heart of Oxfam’s long-term strategy both to increase the productivity of subsistence farmers, as well as to increase smallholders’, particularly women’s, abilities to participate in agricultural markets.

Oxfam recognises that mobile telephony could have significant potential to help the poorest farmers towards greater food and income security.

In Tanzania, we are trialling a programme working with government to monitor the quality of government services to farmers using mobile telephony. In Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia, we are testing market information accessibility through SMS servicing, and in Bangladesh, we are working to provide storm warnings to fishing communities via mobile phones.

Oxfam has not been involved in modelling the potential impacts included in the report and therefore, we cannot comment on how these impacts have been quantified. However, we particularly welcome the focus that this research places on:

  • Mobile financial services and mobile information platforms as areas offering significant potential to support the poorest to invest in their farms. Mobile financial services can fill the banking gap felt by the poorest farmers. With access to savings or insurance services, farmers can reduce the impact of extreme weather events and invest in improving production. Meanwhile, mobile information platforms open up significant additional routes to potential markets, relaying information on prices for inputs and produce sales, as well as information on how to grow and respond to a context of climate change through the dissemination of reliable seasonal weather forecasts.
  • How core business, rather than corporate philanthropy, can operate to have positive developmental impact
  • The importance of developing new business models – models that offer greater opportunities and reduce risks for smallholders, as either suppliers or consumers in the value chain.

To ensure that the focus areas above can most effectively assist with poverty reduction, it will be useful to take a further look at the following qualitative aspects of deploying new mobile technologies:

  • How mobile technology could improve the efficiency of government safety net systems that assist the poorest and most food insecure small farmers – rather than looking only at the role that mobile technology can play in increasing farmer productivity and income from agriculture
  • How companies such as Vodafone can better understand, document and address barriers to the use of mobile technology affecting women. Getting new technology owned and used by women often carries significant challenges, for example overcoming illiteracy and cultural norms which mean that men tend to be the early owners and beneficiaries of new technologies
  • How mobile technology could drive new agricultural practices rather than simply greater efficiency in current practices, particularly around climate change adaptation, and ensuring focus is given to a full range of opportunities around climate change adaptation.

Oxfam welcomes the contribution that this report makes to the area of mobile technology and sustainable, pro-poor, food and agricultural value chains. As an organisation, we look forward to contributing evidence to the growing knowledge base on this area from our global programme work. Finally, we would encourage donors and NGOs to support companies such as Vodafone who are willing to invest in new business models to enable more resilient, inclusive and sustainable agricultural development.

Download the full Connected Agriculture report here

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  1. Who is implementing this program in Tanzania. I have researched and published in the area, and I am working with Oxfam Tanzania as a Program Researcher, will be interesting to hook up myself on that and share experiences.

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