The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said it is looking at ways of making farmers access services easily after introducing a series of agricultural mobile applications.
The applications seek to enhance farm productivity through use of digital technologies under the project called "Agricultural Services and Digital Inclusion in Africa".
The project has been piloted in Rwanda and Senegal since last year.
It will be scaled up to other African countries, according to official from FAO.
In Rwanda, it was tested with 50 farmers in Rulindo District.
Four mobile applications were developed to address identified challenges in farming, including climate change and poor farming practices.
The applications include Weather and Crop Calendar, which combines weather forecasts with crop calendars. Another one referred to as Cure and Feed your Livestock focuses on animal diseases control and feeding, while AgriMarketplace deals with crop prices of local markets. The e-Nutrifood application consists of production, conservation and consumption of nutritious foods by educating people on healthy diet and addressing malnutrition problems.
It is coordinated by the Information and Technology Division (CIO) of FAO, in collaboration with local institutions.
During the stakeholders' validation workshop for the project in Kigali on Wednesday, the issue of affordability of the services emerged because some farmers practice subsistence farming, hence unable to afford them. They called for subsidising of the services in the initial period for farmers to first reap the benefits of the technologies.
Speaking at the event, Cesar Alvarez, Senior Information Technology Officer at FAO said that they plan to negotiate with telecommunication companies such as MTN and Airtel [-Tigo] on how the services can be easily accessible by farmers.
"We are suggesting that for the initial months, the farmers need to get confidence that they are receiving a good project," he said
"Most of them are poor farmers; if we can do it [deliver the services] with no charge in six months, they [telecommunication companies] are going to have new clients," he observed pointing out that agriculture is carried out by millions of people in Rwanda, which is a huge market for telecommunication companies to tap into.
He said that the services will help farmers access information they need to make informed choices about what crops they should grow, where they should sell their produce at favourable prices, and how to control disease affecting their livestock among others.
Sam Barigye, ICT Director at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) said that by providing information to farmers about where to get animal feed and medicine as well as extension services on how to use them, the project will help increase livestock productivity.
"In cure and feed livestock, if you treat animals on time, you prevent massive deaths but rather help sustain production. If you feed chicken well, they get more productive," he observed.
Various options for access to services
To get the technology-based services, a farmer can download a web application (for those who have smart phones), or they can use SMS (for those who have feature phones).
The system also has a voice option whereby farmers who have difficulties reading and writing can access information in form of voices messages.