Elizabeth Siyapi is a farmer in Shurugwi, Zimbabwe. Instead of working through agricultural middlemen, she relies on her phone. Before taking her produce to market, Mrs. Siyapi checks local produce prices on a phone application to make sure she is paid fairly. In Zimbabwe, phone applications have become essential tools for farmers to check prices, the weather, and even receive extension services
She adds: “When my livestock are sick, instead of waiting for an extension officer to physically visit me for help, which may take days, I just consult my phone to look for information on what to do.”
Mrs. Siyapi is one of thousands of Zimbabwean farmers who use one of two smart phone-based applications, called Kurima Mari and Agrishare. The applications are promoted by a German development agency called Welthungerhilfe Zimbabwe.
In recent years, Zimbabwe has witnessed rapid growth in the use of phone-based applications to improve agricultural practices.
Tawanda Mthintwa Hove is the head of digital agriculture at Welthungerhilfe Zimbabwe. He says that farmers use the Kurima Mari application to learn good agricultural practices. The application has been available since 2016 and has a special function to accommodate farmers without internet access.
Mr. Hove explains: “Kurima Mari is available offline, which eliminates the need for buying data. An extension officer updates the application on a regular basis and the updates are shared using Bluetooth, making it costless to the farmer.”
Mrs. Siyapi has been using the application as a source of good agricultural practices for three years. In this time, Mrs. Siyapi’s maize yield has increased from 100 kilograms to over three and a half tonnes.
The second application, Agrishare, allows farmers to hire private services and equipment, including services for production, processing, and transportation. The application requires internet access to connect farmers to these services.
Other innovations include the Ecofarmer Combo program, which uses text messages to deliver weather-based insurance, location-based weather information, and agricultural advice to more than 80,000 farmers. The program is offered by the Zimbabwe Farmers Union.
Paul Zakariya is the executive director of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union. He says that mobile technology like this allows farmers to get agricultural advice in real time, make online payments for inputs and services, and access extension services with the touch of a button. He notes that these services were previously available only through pamphlets and meetings.
Charles Dhewa is the chief executive officer of Knowledge Transfer Africa, which offers another agriculture application called eMkambo. But he says that phone-based applications like these are not yet benefiting small-scale farmers.
He explains, “A few elite farmers with … Android phones could be benefitting here and there.” But often, small-scale farmers do not have access to technology like this.
Mr. Dhewa says that many farmers don’t have the time, the funds, or the digital literacy required to use phone-based applications.
He adds, “The high cost of mobile money is worsening the situation, rendering mobile technology more of a luxury than a necessity.”
Mrs. Siyapi agrees, explaining that she and others struggle to buy data. She uses about $16 US per month in data to use phone-based applications, but says other farmers can make do with $2.20 US to simply download updates and check the marketplace.
According to Mr. Hove, head of digital agriculture at Welthungerhilfe Zimbabwe, rural farmers have been hit hard by COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. For these farmers, the cost of data is prohibitive.
Source: Farm Radio International (This story is based on an article written by Tonderayi Mukeredzi and published by the Inter Press Service on May 27, 2020, titled “Digital Agriculture Benefits Zimbabwe’s Farmers but Mobile Money is Costly.” To read the full story, go to: http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/05/digital-agriculture-benefits-zimbabwes-farmers-but-mobile-money-is-costly/)