Editor's Choice, November 2011: Connected Agriculture. How mobile technology helps tackle age-old challenges
It is not often that a set of promising practical solution are posed to challenges as deep and ingrained as those facing smallholder farmers and inclusive business. ‘Connected Agriculture, this month’s Editor’s Choice, highlights 4 critical ways in which mobile technology can benefit farmers and agribusiness.
- Improving access to financial services. E.g. mobile payments, mobile insurance.
- Provision of agricultural information. E.g. prices, weather forecasts
- Data visibility for supply chain efficiency. E.g. traceability and tracking of supply and distribution
- Enhancing access to markets. E.g. trading or bartering platform.
In total, 12 opportunities are explored in the report, grouped into these four categories. Each is clearly explained, with a diagram of how it works, and barriers and recommendations identified. Estimated uptake and benefits may be a tad optimistic, but the report is a good checklist of the opportunities that any inclusive agribusiness could consider.
The report was commissioned from Accenture by Vodafone, co-published by both, and the full title reflects its scope: Connected Agriculture: the role of mobile in driving efficiency and sustainability in the food and agriculture value chain. It covered 26 countries where Vodafone is present, from Africa and Asia, to Europe and the Middle East, though the findings focus on opportunities in developing markets and small-scale farming.
The report does a good job of highlighting potential gains in productivity and efficiency, with plenty of zeros on potential farmer income: a US$138 billion boost to farmer income in 26 of Vodafone’s markets by 2020. The big contributors are options 1 and 2: financial services and agricultural information.
What it doesn’t cover is the commercial drivers and returns for companies that provide the hardware, software and mobile connectivity. But I think we can take it as given that this substantive report is a reflection of the importance of this market to Vodafone. It identifies some common challenges and ways forward that will require collaborative action by all players, including government and NGOs, and that will help unlock both the commercial potential for companies, as well as the productivity gains for farmers.
I find this report exciting because so many of the projects supported by IAP and BIF are hitting against the age-old challenges of smallholder productivity and/or are already trying out mobile-based solutions at a local level. In Malawi’s AfriNut project (BIF), traceability is important but without technology the paperwork is huge. In India, mKRISHI (BIF) is providing interactive farmer services), and in Ghana, Ignitia (IAP) is providing weather forecasting for farmers in Ghana. Almost across the board, mobile-based payments are an option that could help farmer-focused high-volume low-margin decentralized business models work. Project experience is showing that there are multiple players – large and small – moving in this space, and that getting the business model that works - for revenues, costs, finance and scale - is not so simple. But the opportunities outlined here are underway.
Tom Harrison shares his reflections on this report urges us all to engage to pilot and scale these ideas.