The success of mobile applications in the agricultural sector has been largely measured in terms of numbers, but what has the impact of these apps been on communities as a whole?
Considerable resources have been invested in creating mobile applications for the agriculture sector in ACP countries. These developments have helped to speed up the evolution of mobile networks and reduce the price of mobile handsets. So far, the success of these apps has been measured largely in terms of subscriptions to these services and by means of case studies of individual farmers.
What has not been measured adequately is the impact that these farming apps have on communities as a whole. Three Kenyan academics, Mary Wangari Mutiga, Simon Ndogo Ndung’u and Moses Mwangi Thiga, conducted a study in 2013 entitled ‘The role of farming mobile applications in community development’, which monitored the impact of M-Farm on the Kinangop community in Kenya. It shows that this particular app has helped communities to adopt commercial farming practices, increased their incomes and improved their livelihoods. Indeed, the impact has been felt on the economic, social and cultural levels.
M-Farm introduced in Kinangop
M-Farm is agri-business software that provides important information to its clients, often farmers, suppliers and manufacturers via mobile phones. It helps farmers to connect and work with other farmers at any time. Registered farmers can SMS a number to get the information they are looking for, such as the current market prices of different crops in different regions. M-Farm also helps farmers to sell and buy goods collectively at a fair price in order to maximise profits and protect themselves against unscrupulous middlemen. The M-Farm application was introduced in the Kinangop district in Kenya in 2010. Kinangop is a highly populated and well-watered region in Nyandarua county, just north of Nairobi. It receives an average of 1,000 mm of rainfall a year making, it an ideal region for farming activities all year round. Over the years, most of the region’s farmers have been practicing subsistence farming with crops such as maize, beans, kale, cabbage and potatoes. More recently, crops such as snow peas and sugar snap peas have been introduced in an attempt to diversify crops and commercialise farming activities.
The app was piloted with a few farmers in order to establish its applicability in that specific region. The entire farming community was then shown how to use the app and told how they could benefit from it. This was followed by training activities, which gave farmers the chance to register and start entering their produce and prices into the system.
Economic impact on community
The 2013 study on farming applications was conducted to establish M-Farm’s economic, social and cultural impact on the community. The following factors were analysed to assess the app’s economic impact on the community:
- crop yield
- living standards
Improvements were reported in all four cases. Farmers said that their crop yields had increased. They also spent less as they benefitted from a lower average cost of fertiliser (from KES 4,000 to KES 2,500 per bag) as a result of better access to information on inputs. This reduction in cost has also helped these farmers to increase their farming acreage. Some reported that they have tripled the area that they farm. In terms of savings, farmers reported a fivefold increase in savings as a result of using M-Farm.
Farmers were also interviewed about a number of aspects related to their living standards. As many as 92% of the farmers stated they have managed to improve the type of dwelling their families lived in, from mud structures to semi-permanent or permanent types of housing. The farmers were now able to afford high-quality second-hand clothes, as opposed to the low-cost second-hand clothes they used to buy.
There was a change in family diet among these farmers. They could now afford a variety of starches such as rice and maize meal, compared to potatoes and maize previously. Fruits and animal protein such as eggs, meat and milk are now more affordable as well. In terms of education, the farmers could afford school supplies for their children since they started using M-Farm.
Social impact on community
The social impact of the use of M-Farm was assessed after analysing the following factors:
- change of social status
- formation of groups
- introduction to new organisations
- new farming practices
- employment of youth
The farmers that were interviewed for the study said that social status had changed for the better. They were now able to send their children to better schools, entertain their families and even buy cars. Farmers in Kinangop had also started to form groups with a total of 1,283 members in order to improve productivity and help them to market their produce better.
Using M-Farm enabled farmers to learn about new organisations, opening new avenues of collaboration. Examples include the Kenya Cooperative Creameries, a milk processing company; the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; and Amiran, a provider of agricultural technologies, greenhouses, seeds, chemicals and fertilizers. They also learned about new farming practices, such as using the expertise of agricultural officers, growing different crops and using mobile technologies to obtain farming information.
Another key improvement concerned the employment of youth. The diversification of crop production created jobs for the youth on farms in activities such as planting, spraying, weeding and harvesting, selling inputs, providing transport and teaching young farmers new farming methods. Employing young people has a huge positive impact on the community, as it helps to reduce crime and dependency caused by a lack of regular income. Cultural impact on community The cultural impact of the use of M-Farm was assessed after analysing the following factors:
- new ways of marketing
- new ways of obtaining information
- new belief system
- involvement of women
M-Farm has introduced farmers to new methods for marketing their produce. It has also shown them new ways to obtain information, through extension officers, mobile phones, the internet and radio. These new technologies have changed farmers’ belief system regarding farming. Their view of farming has shifted away from subsistence to more commercial, market-oriented farming. This shift in attitude, in turn, has created acceptance among farmers of new crops in the region. And finally, women’s role in farming has significantly improved since M-Farm was introduced in the district. Women are no longer only involved in the physical farming but also in managing and selling the produce.
Better picture of impact
M-Farm had a major impact in the Kinangop district, both at the community and individual farmer levels. A great deal still needs to be done, however, to improve the development and increase the use of mobile applications in the agricultural sector in ACP countries. While the use of the application has led to the formation of groups, they need to grow and diversify so they can venture further into the retail and export markets to sell their produce. For example, the farmers did not form any savings or credit organisations, which are useful in encouraging farmers to save and secure financing for farming activities.
We also need to have a better picture of the precise impact mobile apps are having on farming communities, but this will only be possible with more detailed information. The study conducted in Kinangop, for example, revealed that farmers in that district are not keeping accurate records of income, expenses or production figures. A clear understanding of the impact of mobile applications at the community level will undoubtedly secure continued investment in their development. Similarly, the large-scale use of these apps is likely to guarantee further development of new and even more innovative apps for the agricultural sector.
Groups formed by farmers in Kinangop
- Young farmers (30 members)
- Hot farm enterprises (8 members)
- Umoja dairy (100 members)
- Muki farmers (1000 members)
- Memo outgrowers (10 members)
- Mwanzo Mpya (20 members)
- Memo central (25 members)
- Kariko self-help group (30 members)
- Ndinda self-help group (15 members)
- Kambata outgrowers (45)
by Mark Speer
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