Agriculture

Specialised mobile services can help to boost farmers’ livelihoods, increasing food production and reducing food waste by improving efficiency throughout the agricultural supply chain

Agriculture – Our approach

Communications technology is now one of the most effective ways to reach remote farmers, helping them to improve productivity and increase efficiency throughout the agricultural supply chain.

By 2050, the world will need to produce 70% more food to satisfy a global population of 9 billion1 and it must do so with increasingly limited land and water resources. Vodafone aims to help meet this challenge with the introduction of specially designed mobile products and services.

We are partnering with enterprise customers, NGOs and government agencies to develop commercially viable propositions that can boost food production, improve farmers’ livelihoods and bring efficiencies for consumer goods companies. These include mobile information services, access to financial services and insurance against crop failure, as well as solutions to improve efficiency in agricultural supply chains.

Scaling up from pilots to long-term financially viable customer propositions remains the greatest challenge we face in this area, but we are encouraged by the continuing success of existing programmes.

Read on to find out more about our mobile agriculture services and our performance in 2013/14.

Assessing the potential

Applying mobile technology to the agricultural sector brings many potential benefits to farmers and their families, as well as to companies seeking to improve their supply chains. Our Connected Agriculture (pdf, 2.1 MB) report, conducted in 2011, found that mobile technology could boost farmers’ productivity enough to increase agricultural income by US$138 billion by 2020 across our markets, primarily in India, Africa and the Middle East.

Mobile technology can raise farmers’ productivity, lifting smallholder farmers out of poverty and contributing to economic development in emerging markets. By promoting sustainable farming practices and improving the efficiency of food distribution, mobile technology can also help reduce food waste, carbon emissions and the amount of water needed for irrigation.

See the Connected Agriculture (pdf, 2.1 MB) research report for more information.

Developing solutions

We are already working with enterprise customers in the fast moving consumer goods and retail sectors to explore opportunities to develop viable commercial propositions that can benefit farmers, communities and our enterprise customers by:

  • Improving access to finance and agricultural inputs: Vodafone’s mobile money transfer service, M-Pesa, offers a platform for our work with partners to build new solutions specific to the agricultural sector. M-Pesa improves access to financial services for farmers and fieldworkers, enabling them to save and borrow small amounts of money and buy essential inputs, such as seeds. Through services such as Kilimo Salama (see below), farmers can access insurance to cover the cost of replanting if crops are destroyed by drought or flooding.
  • Providing information to farmers via SMS text and helplines: Services such as the Vodafone Farmers’ Club in Turkey (see case study below) include local weather forecasts, crop prices and guidance on topics such as pest control, sustainable agriculture and resource management.
  • Improving supply chain efficiency: Mobile technology can improve communication between smallholders, distributors and retailers. Farmers and field agents can share information with retailers and distributors via mobile and distributors can track and trace the movement of produce and manage their fleets using machine-to-machine (M2M) technology.

Our SMS text messaging, mobile payments and M2M services are increasingly enabling farmers and enterprise customers to improve productivity, efficiency, security and visibility of the agricultural supply chain. We also offer special price plans and information services for farmers in emerging markets and we are looking at ways to increase access and affordability of financial services tailored for agricultural purposes.

In focus: Vodafone Farmers’ Club in Turkey

The Vodafone Farmers’ Club service in Turkey uses mobile technology to give farmers the information they need to improve their harvests and livelihoods – leading to an estimated US$140 million in efficiency savings in 2013/14 alone. Farmers who sign up to the service receive SMS alerts with weather forecasts, crop prices and other information that is tailored to their local area and crop types.

In 2013/14, more than 790,000 farmers subscribed to the Farmers’ Club – 20,000 more than the previous year – and around 695 million SMS alerts were sent to farmers.

Farmers’ Club members use specially designed rugged mobile phones that can be dropped in mud or trodden on and will still work. Bespoke payment schedules help farmers manage their cash flow, including an annual billing option to pay at harvest time, when their income is highest.

Partnering with others to develop solutions

In 2013/14, we announced a new partnership with Sibesonke, a Finnish-based mobile services company, to provide farmers in Tanzania with agricultural information directly to their mobile phones. This cost-effective and scalable solution will connect remote farmers to real-time information, such as weather forecasts and advice on pest treatment, helping them increase their yields and incomes.

Working with Unilever, we have developed the mobile application ECOTAB, which is replacing manual, paper-based field audits. ECOTAB has been piloted in Turkey as part of the Sustainable Tea Agriculture project run by Unilever’s Lipton brand. Using the mobile application, Unilever can audit over 15,000 smallholder farmers and upload all data to a central database, saving time and money, while improving the quality of information provided. The ECOTAB application was recognised as Best Business to Business Partnership by the Ethical Corporation Responsible Business Awards in 2013/14.

We continued working with Syngenta Sustainable Agriculture Foundation and UAP Insurance to provide micro-insurance for farmers in Kenya through an initiative called Kilimo Salama. In 2013/14, over 185,000 farmers were insured against drought, heavy rain and disease. With their farms and incomes protected, smallholder farmers invested 20% more in quality seeds and fertiliser, and increased their incomes by 16%, compared with uninsured farmers. Kilimo Salama offers protection to farmers’ investment in seeds and fertiliser and chemicals, or insures their harvests against the financial impact of crop failure. Find out more about Kilimo Salama.

Delivering mobile solutions through the Connected Farmer Alliance

In 2013/14, we continued our work with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the development NGO, TechnoServe, on a three year partnership known as the Connected Farmer Alliance. By promoting commercially viable mobile agricultural solutions, the partnership aims to increase the productivity, incomes and resilience of half a million smallholder farmers across Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania. It will also improve supply chain efficiency and increase the ability of farmers to access payments and other financial services.

Vodafone is matching USAID’s US$5 million funding through in-kind investment in the partnership. We are piloting the solutions developed with our enterprise customers and building on our existing technology platforms (see feature). M-Pesa will be the critical mechanism for developing mobile financial services that enable rural farmers to save, invest in productivity and reduce their financial risks.

In 2013/14, the Alliance completed its first pilot of a supply chain solution with Kilombero Plantations Limited (KPL) that tested how mobile technology could improve engagement with smallholder rice farmers in Tanzania. Through the pilot, around 600 smallholder farmers were registered on one central database, making it easier to notify them about crop prices and collection days, and remind them of their loan balance and repayment dates using SMS messages. The system was also used to track 29 trucks that pick up crops from collection centres, helping KPL plan and manage deliveries more efficiency.

The Alliance is currently piloting this supply chain solution with Ndumberi Dairy Cooperative, based in Kiambu, Kenya. The technology will help the cooperative run more efficiently, while increasing productivity and incomes for its farmer members that supply the milk. Using SMS messages – rather than relying on hand-delivered communications – to confirm receipt of milk deliveries and payments has reduced the cooperative’s operating costs by around 40%.

In focus: Connected Farmer Alliance brings opportunities for seed producers in Tanzania

In 2013/14, the Connected Farmer Alliance launched a pilot with the flower cutting and flower seed agribusiness, Multiflower, based in Arusha, Tanzania. Using a business-to-business (B2B) supply chain management solution, Multiflower can now communicate with the smallholder farmers contracted to grow seeds for the business more efficiently and effectively. It also manages and distributes loans and payments to farmers via our mobile payment platform, M-Pesa, resulting in significant time and cost savings for both the business and the farmers.

Mzee Ayo is one of the 4,000 smallholder farmers working with Multiflower. He was able to apply for a loan worth 600,000 Tanzanian shillings (around €265) that he received through M-Pesa. Without the system, he would have had a time-consuming and expensive journey to Multiflower’s offices to collect the loan – resources which can now be invested in his seed production. Mzee expects to bring in 7 million Tanzanian shillings (around €3,100) from the seeds he produces on his five acre plot.

Notes:

  1. UN Food and Agriculture Organization, How to feed the world, 2009