Agriculture

Specialised mobile services can help boost farmers’ livelihoods and improve efficiency throughout the agricultural supply chain

Agriculture

Communications technology is one of the most effective ways of reaching remote farmers to help them improve their productivity and livelihoods, while increasing efficiency throughout the agricultural supply chain.

By 2050, food production will have to increase by 60% to satisfy a global population of 9 billion1 – and it must do so with increasingly limited land and water resources.

We are partnering with enterprise customers, NGOs and government agencies to develop commercially viable propositions to boost food production, improve farmers’ incomes and bring efficiencies for consumer goods companies. For example, farmers can use our mobile services to get information about weather, market prices and good farming practices, and gain access to financial services that enable them to insure their crops against drought.

Scaling up from small pilot projects to long-term financially viable customer propositions remains the greatest challenge we face in this area. We use what we have learned from our successful pilot programmes and partnerships with enterprise customers when pursuing new opportunities.

Read on to find out more about our agriculture services and our performance in 2014/15.

Assessing the potential

Applying mobile technology to the agricultural sector has the potential to bring many benefits to farmers and their families, as well as to companies seeking to improve their supply chains (see examples below).

By providing better access to markets, information and finance, mobile technology can raise farmers’ productivity. This can help to lift smallholder farmers out of poverty and contribute to economic development in emerging markets. Mobile technology can also help reduce food waste, carbon emissions and the amount of water needed for irrigation by promoting sustainable farming practices and improving the efficiency of food distribution.

Our Connected Agriculture (pdf, 2.1 MB) report, published in 2011, found that mobile technology could boost farmers’ productivity and improve efficiency in the sector to increase agricultural income by US$138 billion by 2020 across our markets, primarily in India, Africa and the Middle East.

Building on this research, we published our Connected Farming in India (pdf, 2.9 MB) report in 2015, looking in detail at potential impacts in India – a critical market for Vodafone and one of the world’s largest food-producing countries. Our research looked in detail at the potential impact from rolling out six services at scale in India. It found that together these Vodafone mobile agricultural services could positively impact the lives of nearly 70 million Indian farmers in 2020, generating over $9 billion in additional annual farmer income. These services are relevant for all emerging markets so the potential global impact is significant.

Developing solutions

Our SMS text messaging, mobile payments and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) services are increasingly enabling farmers and enterprise customers to improve productivity, efficiency, security and visibility of the agricultural supply chain. We are working with enterprise customers in the fast-moving consumer goods and retail sectors to develop viable commercial propositions that can benefit farmers, communities and our enterprise customers by:

  • improving access to finance: Vodafone’s mobile money transfer service, M-Pesa, allows us and our partners to create 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 essentials, such as seeds
  • providing information to farmers via SMS text and helplines: services such as the Vodafone Farmers’ Club (see case study below) provide information on local weather forecasts, crop prices and guidance on various topics including pest control, sustainable agriculture and resource management. The SMS-based iCow app, delivered by Safaricom, is helping 500,000 farmers in Kenya increase yields, income and productivity by sharing best practice tips and providing support for efficient farm 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 to better match supply with demand for produce. Distributors can use M2M technology to track and trace the movement of produce and manage their fleets.

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, saving them time and money.

Farmers using the service pay a small monthly subscription fee to receive SMS alerts with weather forecasts, crop prices and other information that is tailored to their local area and crop types. They also get access to a mobile marketplace that enables them to sell their produce directly to buyers. Farmers’ Club members use specially designed rugged mobile phones that will still work even if they are dropped in mud or trodden on.

Since its launch in 2009, the service has benefitted more than 1.25 million farmers in Turkey. To date, more than 700 million SMS alerts have been sent to members.

Partnering with others to develop solutions

In 2014/15, 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. Vodafone is matching USAID’s US$5 million funding through in-kind investment in the partnership.

M-Pesa will be the critical mechanism used by the Connected Farmer Alliance for developing mobile financial services that enable rural farmers to build up savings, invest in productivity and reduce their financial risks. We are also working with TechnoServe to provide basic financial literacy training and guidance on how to start saving using M-Pawa, our mobile money service that enables customers to take out small loans and earn interest on savings (see Financial inclusion).

In 2014/15, the Connected Farmer Alliance announced its first commercial agreements with Olam International (a coffee, cocoa and cotton agribusiness) and Kenya Nut (a nut processor). Olam will use our mobile technology to increase the productivity of around 30,000 farmers in Tanzania who supply its produce. The farmers will benefit from advice, access to M-Pesa and real-time notifications about changes in market prices of their crops.

Kenya Nut aims to reach 50,000 nut farmers in Africa by working with the Connected Farmer Alliance. The partnership aims to promote better communications with farmers, improve traceability, enhance payment security and promote business efficiency. Delivered by Safaricom, our mobile services will connect these farmers to training sessions, deliver electronic receipts so they can easily track the value, volume and quality of their produce and provide access to M-Pesa payment and loan services.

Vodafone is also working directly with enterprise customers in the fast-moving consumer goods sector to provide solutions that benefit their businesses and the farmers who supply their ingredients.

For example, we are working with a global food company to help smallholder farmers in Africa boost yields, become more efficient and get higher prices for their crops. In 2014/15, we conducted initial research to better understand the needs of Kenyan smallholder coffee farmers. We will use the findings to develop and pilot a platform with 500 coffee farmers and 11 agronomists in Kenya.

The platform will offer a social networking tool that encourages knowledge sharing and send weekly texts offering advice on farming and business practices. An electronic receipting service will keep farmers informed about payment schedules to enhance trust between producers and buyers. Together, these initiatives aim to improve farmers’ livelihoods and create a stable, high-quality supply of produce for the food company.

In focus: Enabling farmers to improve milk deliveries

Through the Connected Farmer Alliance, we are working with the Ndumberi Dairy Farmers Cooperative Society in Kenya to enable smallholder dairy farmers to keep better track of the milk they produce and sell through the cooperative and thereby reduce the incidence of theft, using mobiles.

Around 20% of the milk produced by the farmers that was being taken to the collection centre run by the Ndumberi Dairy Farmers Cooperative Society was being stolen. We have introduced a mobile-based supply chain tracking and receipt system offering farmers and the cooperative dairy better visibility over their product, thereby reducing the opportunity for theft to take place. Farmers also use the mobile service to get relevant information on agricultural practices and market prices via a helpline, and to request micro-loans through the M-Pesa mobile payment system.

The results from the pilot showed that farmers saw the value in this service with a marked increase in their loyalty to the Ndumberi Dairy Farmers Cooperative Society. The amount of milk sold in this way has increased and payments and receipt times were reduced by nearly 30% making discrepancies easier to track. We are now planning to scale this pilot programme into a commercial service with the Connected Farmer Alliance.

Notes:

  1. UN Food and Agriculture Organization