Farm worker with tablet in a field
Pioneering New Technology
How Smartphones Help Feed the World

One of the defining characteristics of humanity is our ongoing ability to create and harness technologies in beneficial new ways. The same goes for our smartphones. In fact, the same technology we rely on every day to order take-out, hail a taxi or stay in touch with friends is also empower smallholder farmers around the world to have more successful harvests. 

 


The big impact of smallholder farmers

Smallholder farmers operate an estimated 475 million farms across the globe, which comprise 12 percent of the world’s total farmland. These farmers live predominantly in developing countries where food security is not always guaranteed, and yet they provide 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. 

 

Based on the statistics alone, it’s safe to say that smallholder farmers carry a lot of responsibility. However, they also face many challenges that threaten their crops each season, such as evolving pests, relentless weeds, climate change, and other factors. That’s why it’s crucial that we develop new and innovative ways to help smallholders cultivate more reliable harvests—and smartphone technology is one of many approaches that’s making a difference. 

 

 

icon: farming know how
Finding Farming Know-How
Many smallholder farmers in developing countries lack access to educational and agronomic resources. Instead, they depend on word of mouth and trial and error to increase their farming knowledge. Without access to formal training, it can be difficult to know how and when to use certain products, such as fertilizers or crop protection products, to optimize their performance. However, with only a mobile phone and a connection, smallholder farmers can now access a wealth of information in the palm of their hand. Smartphone-based agronomic tools also make it easier to share insights and tips with other farmers, near or far. And if a farmer faces a problem in their field, they can reach out directly to technical experts through these mobile apps to quickly get the answers they need, regardless of distance.
 
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Keeping Up with Alerts
It might seem obvious, but being able to check the weather forecast provides vital insight for farmers. By receiving alerts directly on their phone, they can plan for any upcoming poor weather conditions. Similarly, farmers can now be alerted by text message when there is a disease outbreak. This system has been launched in Eastern Africa, among other locations, where it’s helping farmers protect their livestock from pests.
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Managing Money
The vast majority of smallholder farmers operate without bank accounts, making them reliant on cash-in-hand payments. But that’s only part of the challenge. Without a bank account, it becomes much more complicated to put money aside into savings or to access capital through loans. 

 

There are also challenges for the minority of smallholder farmers who do have bank accounts. One study in Uganda found that farmers travel 45 km (28 miles) on average to get to the bank, which takes considerable time and attention away from their daily workload. 

 

To help all smallholder farmers access more of the opportunities that banks provide without the associated hassles of having an account, mobile platforms are now allowing farmers to receive payments, access financing, and command fair market pricing at their fingertips. 

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Accessing Markets
Because many smallholder farmers lack access to the market, they are often forced to sell their produce to middlemen—a process that removes farmers from their final customers and decreases the price they can command for their produce. Because many don’t have access to current pricing information, the middleman scenario often leaves farmers in the dark about how to calculate fair prices.

 

Smartphone technology is helping smallholders access their markets directly, albeit remotely, in order to make informed decisions for selling their produce. In some countries, SMS services are available to keep farmers up to date on the current prices for agricultural goods. Additionally, other mobile apps enable farmers to get in contact with exporters to side-step the middlemen entirely. All this helps farmers secure their livelihood. 

 

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How are we helping smallholder farmers get connected?

While there are many parallel efforts working in tandem to support smallholder farmers, here are some important programs that are working to empower these farmers through mobile technology. 

 

AgriFin Mobile
AgriFin Mobile serves farmers across Indonesia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Working with various partners, the program provides unified platforms and channels which offer farming tips and financial services. These resources are helping smallholder farmers manage their operations more effectively so that they can gain a stable income and contribute to increased food security.

 

Better Life Farming
Better Life Farming is a partnership between several companies, including Bayer, which aims to help smallholder farmers overcome the many and multi-faceted challenges they face every day. By working together, we’re addressing the problem from a variety of different perspectives to help smallholder farmers through training, financing, technology, crop protection, and insurance to name a few. 

 

One Acre Fund
One Acre Fund provides critical services for smallholder farmers, including financing, tools, and training. The nonprofit is pursuing a new initiative to adapt digital tools like tablets and mobile phones to make day-to-day operations more efficient. For example, One Acre Fund employees will use tablets to register farmers for programs, increasing accuracy and saving time.

 

With the right vision, something as simple as reimagining smartphone technology can make a massive positive difference for smallholder farmers around the world. By channeling insights, information, and opportunity down into a swipe on a screen, smallholder farmers can increasingly access the resources they need to thrive in spite of the challenges they face on a daily basis.