More and more we recognise just why a form of digital technology in agriculture is a must in today’s fast-paced world. For smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, low yields and decreased incomes are part of their daily struggles. Peter Alisengawa, a 34-year old smallholder who lives in the remote Namukanagha village in Uganda’s Iganga district, says that agricultural productivity has been a mixture of hope and despair as he always records miserable yields.
The story is not different for 44-year old Esther Nakisige, who says farming has been unproductive for her.
“I always lack money to cultivate more, buy seeds and fertilisers for my farming,” she says.
A major problem that has been confronting the two Ugandan smallholders – who epitomize the struggles of many in Sub-Saharan Africa – is the lack of adequate information on best farming practices such as when and how to plant that could lead to increased productively, more income from their produce and better livelihoods. However, a project in Uganda that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs) in agriculture is transforming the livelihoods of smallholders.
Digitising agriculture in Uganda
The project offers a bundle of a highly targeted digital services such as weather tips, loans, market linkages and drought insurance to farmers through short message services to their mobile phones.
It uses satellite information through global positioning system to collect precise and accurate coordinates of farms and match them with the locations to aid their dissemination to farmers.
The project has agents who profile willing farmers into the service using mobile phones. The agents visit smallholder farmers at their homes and farms and take their details including -names, members of the family, type of crops they grow and their historical yields. After being enrolled, farmers can then receive preseason messages on their mobile phones. It uses satellite information through the global positioning system to collect precise and accurate coordinates of farms and match them with the locations to aid their dissemination to farmers.
Funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation-led project has significantly increased smallholders’ crop yields and helped improved their livelihoods. Balidawa Siraj, a farmer who serves as an agent of the project, is in charge of a sub-county with about 630 smallholders including 330 women, says his work is to sensitise farmers about the project and the advantages of enrolling in the service.
The project’s agents such as Siraj also give specific advice to farmers on when to plant, how to plant and types of crops to plant depending on the preseason messages received.
Challenges and benefits of digital technology in agriculture
“Illiteracy is a major challenge with the project as some farmers cannot interpret the alerts. Farmers who cannot read or write are not left out. Involving smallholders with a view to improving their livelihoods has brought confidence in commercial institutions.
“Let farmers understand the importance and value of technology in agriculture before rolling out the programmes.”Dennis Rapong’o, UjuziKilimo-Kenya
Digital technology is transforming agriculture and economies
According to Michael Hailu, director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, agriculture should not only be taken for subsistence but as a business for smallholders to have enough not only for consumption but also to improve livelihoods and transform countries.
“The role of the smallholder producer is extremely important especially in Africa in terms of creating jobs but in order to succeed, agriculture has to be transformed,” explains Hailu.
“It is through innovations and inclusion of technology into agriculture that smallholders can see high yields and also improve their incomes, livelihoods and their country’s economies.”
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