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Article by a journalist on a session I moderated during the international conference Making the Connection: value chain for transforming stakeholder agriculture, organized mainly by the Technical Center for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA). The theme of the session was on mobile phones and agriculture value chains. The conference was organized in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 05 to 09 November 2012. KL


Mobile services strengthening agricultural value chains for smallholder farmers in ACP countries

By Adelle Z Roopchand 

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- As the demand for food production increases for more than 9 billion people by 2050, mobile phones and other mobile applications are playing an increasingly important role in supporting agricultural value chains in the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP). ICTs appear to offer opportunities for improving supply and trade efficiencies. 

 According to Ken Lohento of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), speaking at the “Making the Connection” conference on the theme of ‘Mobile services strengthening agricultural value chains for smallholder’, “One of the expected outcomes of the conference is to achieve a greater understanding of the factors necessary for value chains to thrive, such as buyer-seller linkages, finance and ICTs.”

He said, “We looked at exciting applications, opportunities, challenges and multi-stakeholder collaboration relating to using mobile phones to enhance value chains.”

Lohento said the panel concluded that there is “the need to target young people as bridges to innovation in agriculture, to promote best practices, strengthen awareness which the media can contribute to. It’s crucial that the current market and stakeholders are analysed carefully so as to ensure the effectiveness of ICT services.”

During the panel discussion, Peter Thompson of Jamaica’s Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), stressed the importance of improving extension services in developing countries, “RADA is using mobile phones to better reach individual smallholder farmers.” 

He added, “This is a key response to the deliquescence of extension services in recent years and more and more the role of mobile phones are increasing in connecting farmers with information on everything from markets to the weather.” 

Thompson explained, “Agricultural losses due to Hurricane Sandy in October would have been much greater had it not been for the text messaging service alerting farmers to how to cope with the hurricane.”

Shaun Ferris from the Catholic Relief Services made an overview of ICTs and in particular mobile phone opportunities. Different ICT applications and tools are used in different segments of the agriculture value chains, from pre-production to advisory services and marketing and consumption. According to Ferris, “Each stakeholder in the chain can use specific tools or applications, the one that is most relevant to him or adequate for its services.”

Other panelists, Victoria Clause from GSMA and Kwame Bentil from Mfarms in Ghana, presented several uses of mobile phones. These include the farmer insurance service using mobile phone and the Mpesa offered by Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and the use of mobile devices including iPad by the coffee importers of Sustainable Harvest in Tanzania to enhance the supply chain and train members of farmer cooperatives. 

Clause informed that activities of the Agri-programme at the GSMA confirm that uses of mobiles phones and ICTs thus address all segments and sectors of the value chains. She insisted that multi-stakeholder collaboration is needed in order to ensure successful implementation of the ICT to support value chains. 

The presentation of the Farmer Alliance Project by Hillary Miller-Wise from TechnoServe confirmed that need. This initiative that is being jointly implemented by her organization, USAID and Vodafone in Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania brings together different expertise with the aim to improve the productivity and incomes for smallholder farmers. Here again, the Mpesa financial platform will be used. According to her, it is key to look for the different expertise and take into account specific roles for each of the stakeholder that can come together to build ICT integration in value chains.

Some challenges met by ICT based or agricultural organizations which engage in building ICT applications harnessed to the value chain were also discussed. These include the difficulty met to sustain and scale up pilot and donor funded initiatives being currently implemented. Contributions from participants informed about initiatives around mobile phones to strengthen agriculture in countries such as Nigeria and Rwanda. 

Other participants were eager to have more information about how to implement adequate SMS services to farmers. Interactive voice response also offers good opportunities. Others warned that apart from mobile phones which some farmers are still unable to acquire or use, other ICT based tools such as radios must also be put into play.

Originally published in Caribbean News Now.


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