In this guest post, Dennis Odera, Africa Business Coordinator for WeFarm, outlines the importance of getting agricultural information to rural entrepreneurs and how WeFarm delivers on this.
At face value, food security and unemployment are words that have very little in common. If you look at the words through an agricultural lens, however, similarities start to pop up.
Africa currently has two resources that are available in abundance – land and people. With the rise in world population, there is a steady high demand for a certain commodity – food. How then can Africa make the most out of its abundant resources to fulfil a world need?
Agriculture in Africa has traditionally been viewed as a form of subsistence rather than as a means of employment. Until recently, very few people (exporters and large scale farmers) viewed agriculture as a business. This view has however started to gradually shift and a majority of farmers (including small scale farmers) are starting to treat their agricultural exploits as revenue generating businesses – agribusinesses.
Can Africa rely on agribusinesses to not only solve the unemployment problem in the continent but to bolster food security around the world? In my opinion, yes and information can play a crucial in making this a reality.
The role of information in agribusiness
The importance of information to any business cannot be understated. Investors in the stock exchange, for example, rely on information to determine where to invest their money. Phone companies rely on customer feedback (information) to better their subsequent models. Why should it be any different for farmers?
Before a farmer can begin preparing a piece of land for cultivation, he or she may carry out a soil test. The information the farmer gets from this soil test will determine what crops the farmer can grow and which inputs are required. Before planting, a farmer will also identify possible markets. Access to market information will assist the farmer to decide which crop(s) will bring the greatest returns. Information is the bedrock of any agribusiness venture.
The source of information required by agripreneurs
The most obvious answer would be to Google it right? Well, if you consider that only 28.6% of the African population has access to the internet and a majority of those who have access to the internet live in major cities, then the answer is no longer as straight forward. In reality, most agripreneurs have very little or no access to the internet and are therefore starved of information. How then can we get information to them?
Although the rate of internet penetration in Africa has been stunted, the same cannot be said for mobile telephony. It is estimated that 67% of the African population own mobile phones and most agripreneurs either own one or have easy access to them. If we wanted to ensure agripreneurs are able to access important information, we would be safer betting on a solution that can piggyback off mobile telephony.
WeFarm is one such solution whose mission is to ensure every agripreneur has easy access to information from wherever they are. WeFarm is an SMS based, peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform that enables farmers to share and source information via SMS. Farmers are able to ask any agricultural based questions and receive answers to their questions directly on their phone.
Officially launched in February 2015, WeFarm has been able to onboard over 69,700 farmers. These farmers have had over 10.6 million interactions and the information that has been shared has enabled some farmers to prevent diseases from wiping out their crops while others have been able to venture into new forms of farming.
Joseph Mvunga, a coffee farmer and WeFarm user in Kenya, is one such farmer. He was looking to supplement his coffee income and was seeking a sustainable and profitable agribusiness to do so. He had previously heard of farmers earning extra money by rearing rabbits but he had no idea where to start.
Joseph sent an SMS to WeFarm asking for advice on how to rear rabbits. His question was then sent to Lido, a farmer who has been rearing rabbits for more than 20 years. Lido shared a number of helpful pieces of advice such as the best breeds of rabbit to rear, what feed would be suitable for the rabbits and how to raise the kitten (baby rabbits).
Relying on Lido’s advice, Joseph bought 8 rabbits and in under 6-months had grown his rabbit population to over 50 rabbits. Joseph and his family not only benefitted from the new healthy delicacy on their home menu (rabbit meat), the extra income generated (from selling the rabbits) was happily welcomed.
The information generated on WeFarm has not only been beneficial to farmers but has helped companies and organizations that work with farmers to get a better understanding of their farmers and they, in turn, have tailored their products and services to suit farmers’ needs. Information on WeFarm can also be used to help companies, organizations or government agencies to map disease outbreaks in crops and animals and help manage those occurrences and mitigate risk.
Information is the cornerstone of any business and with platforms such as WeFarm providing all farmers with easy access to information, it is only a matter of time before the agribusiness bug strikes and not only solves the problem of unemployment but food security as well.