Farmers are calling on mobile technology to streamline the agricultural industry
Back in 2011, Accenture’s Connected Agriculture report concluded that mobile technology had the potential to increase global agricultural revenues by $138bn. The report also suggested that mobile solutions could reduce the industry’s CO2 equivalent emissions by almost five mega tonnes. The fact that mobile could bring about huge developments in AgTech is now common knowledge. But how much progress has been made, and what needs to happen to make the mobile agricultural revolution a reality?
Smart phone, smart farming
Mobile technology has the power to deliver a range of advantages to farmers, especially those in less economically developed and more remote locations. One of the most important benefits of mobile connectivity is that it can improve access to financial services, which is vital for smallholders with narrow margins. Unlikely as it sounds, the world leader in mobile payments is actually Kenya. But, with a mobile penetration rate of 90 per cent, the country’s lead makes perfect sense. Mobile can be used to send instant payments between parties, avoiding long waiting periods and resulting financial strain.
As well as facilitating the transfer and reception of funds, mobile is a means of distributing information. Through the internet and a variety of apps, farmers can find out about expected weather conditions, new regulations, real time market fluctuations, and the health of their own produce. In Tanzania, UjuziKilimo has developed a device that sends soil readings via SMS. Enabling soil tests in this way allows farmers to treat their soil with the right type and amount of chemicals, reducing unnecessary fertilization and increasing crop yields.
Mobile can also contribute to improved data visibility across the supply chain. Through mobile based data visualisation, farmers and wholesalers can predict when people will want more of a certain crop and determine whether supply can meet demand. Another important aspect to consider is market accessibility. Building mobile networks can widen trade with other farmers, other countries, and other continents by creating a platform for negotiations.
Dialling in to mobile
Farmers are clearly willing to pick up their phones, and it’s not hard to see why. Mobile platforms are cheap, comprehensive and connected. Making further improvements, however, relies on more than just the enthusiasm of farmers. Healthy startup environments will go a long way to making the most of mobile, as young companies can move faster than their traditional alternatives and build effective solutions. Groups like the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation have a responsibility to recognise and encourage the use of mobile technologies across the world, which means creating and distributing information as well as providing finance.
National governing bodies also have the power to make a real difference, simply by communicating the benefits of mobile solutions to agricultural associations. In 2013, the UK government published its Strategy for Agricultural Technologies with the aim of increasing support to develop, adopt and exploit new technologies. Government led schemes are an important place to start, but something that governments may not be able to provide is resources. The UK Strategy for Agricultural Technologies set aside £90m for Centres of Agricultural Innovation, and UK farmers can apply for government funding, but this is certainly not a global standard. This is where corporate social responsibility could help to expand the capital committed to agriculture. Serious food insecurity is a persistent global problem, and working on solutions to solve it should be a top priority for businesses. The Gates Foundation, for example, recently announced $306m in grants to boost agricultural yields in the developing world.
Ultimately, mobile has made it easier for farmers across the world to manage their crops and livestock, improve their yields, and contribute to a healthier agricultural economy. This is especially true of the developing world, where high mobile saturation has driven the use of apps and mobile-compatible devices. But, with more government and corporate attention, mobile can become an even more powerful tool in the fight against food shortages.
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