Mfarmer SMS Redefines Market Access for Uganda Farmers

Uganda’s smallholder farmers are benefiting from an innovative ICT mobile phone initiative that offers weather reports and up-to-date market information about changes in prices for agricultural commodities, thereby granting them lucrative returns from their farming ventures.

The programme, dubbed MFarmer SMS, currently operates under the Nakaseke Community Telecentre in Uganda with an aim of helping farmers in rural areas to connect with better markets. It encourages two-way feedback with farmers, buyers and agro-processors, and other service providers. The project is designed to help farmers access agricultural market price information and weather information through their mobile phones.

“We are using Frontline SMS to manage, send and receive SMS. The key aantage of FrontlineSMS is that it can be customized to suit any organisation’s needs. You can adapt it for all sorts of services, and communicate with your community about anything: agricultural market price information, weather, natural calamities, or an alert system,” explained the program coordinator Balaba Peter.

According to BizTech Africa, The project, which reached over 600 farmers by the end of 2013 which was the year of its inception, is aimed at reaching over 45000 farmers from Nakaseke district. Acording to Balaba, the project was launched in Nakaseke district because the site is one of Uganda’s six innovative Community Multimedia Centres (CMCs). The CMCs are part of a global initiative by UNESCO to promote community empowerment and bridge the digital divide in the developing world by supporting community radio and providing access to the Internet.

One of the beneficiary farmers from using the program is Siraje Muwanga. Siraje who mainly relies on farming to make ends meet grows maize, beans, coffee among others. One of the major challenges he has encountered in the past include poor storage facilities and low prices for his produce, especially during the most productive parts of the harvest. “Our major challenge is that most farmers are exploited by buyers because of lack of knowledge of the prevailing market prices and even the access to the market itself. In most cases we don’t know if they are buying cheaply, which is why we fall prey to them!”

The Mfarmer SMS service has helped Muwanga to link up directly with buyers for his produce especially beans and coffee. As a farmer, Muwanga says he’s happy because most farmers need agricultural price information, especially about maize, beans and coffee. He is optimistic that this service will benefit his fellow farmers and urges them to seize such opportunities.

The project was supported by United Nations Economic Commission for Africa within the framework of resolutions made during the African Knowledge Network workshop held November, 2011 at UNECA, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The resolutions recognized that the growth and penetration of ICTs, particularly mobile phones in Africa, is attracting both solution providers and development actors in the development of community-based applications in supporting areas ranging from financial services and government service delivery to support the socio-economic sectors in agriculture, health, education and commerce.

As a result, there was a need for Telecentres to adopt new and crosscutting applications to serve their communities better and to ensure sustainability. The Mfarmer SMS project at Nakaseke has been stimulated by the fact that mobile phone penetration within the area, as in many other African villages, is high and most households have access to mobile phones. In addition Balaba noted that it’s also a simple tool to use. “It operates on just a mobile phone with a sim card, a computer and some air time. The system is browser based and designed to run on Windows, Mac and Linux. It does not even require Internet access,” added Balaba.

According to a report from Telco research firm Pyramid Research, mobile penetration rose from just 1.9 percent at the end of 2002 to an estimated 39.0 percent in 2009. This is expected to rise further, reaching 70.7 percent penetration by 2014, while the number of mobile subscriptions will exceed 27 million. Balaba added that the rise growth in mobile penetration and ICT has to be tapped to help grow agricultural output which is the country’s production engine employing over 80 percent.

Source : CIO East Africa

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