"Pius was one of our first clients. We gave him three microloans so that he could develop his farm when he needed to. Banks are reluctant to loan money to small farmers," explains Peris Bosire, co-founder of FarmDrive, a credit intermediation company, supported by the French Development Agency (AFD). She built up the start-up with Rita Kimani, who also graduated from the University of Nairobi. "The transaction with Pius was made possible using a mobile phone via M-Pesa," she says.
"The use of ICT allows this sector, which employs 60% of the active population, to significantly increase their productivity,"
says Jean-Michel Huet, who specialises in Africa at the BearingPoint consultancy firm
M-Pesa is a microfinance and money transfer system that uses mobile phones, a safe and effective means in the country that uses mobile phone payments the most on the planet. "In Kenya, it is used in 50% of transactions," says Jean-Michel Huet, who specialises in Africa at the BearingPoint consultancy firm and author of Le Digital en Afrique (Digital Technology in Africa). Just one example of many, it shows the major role information and communication technologies (ICT) has in the development of agriculture across this huge continent which, by 2050, will be home to a quarter of the global population which it will have to feed. "The use of ICT allows this sector, which employs 60% of the active population, to significantly increase their productivity," insists Jean-Michel Huet. Using mobile phones, which are very common (60% of the African population on average), farmers can access very useful data. "Information to provide answers to key questions about the weather, price trends, potential buyers, new markets or health crises," explains Chris Addison, a coordinator at CTA (Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation), a joint international institution of the ACP Group of States (African, Caribbean and Pacific) and the European Union (EU).
Illiteracy as a barrier
'In many villages where there is low coverage, people rent access to their mobile phone, like a payphone in the past'
Jean-Michel Huet, who specialises in Africa at the BearingPoint consultancy firm
In partnership with two NGOs, RONGEAD in Lyon (sustainable trade) and its partner in West Africa N'Kalo, the CTA has set up the 'Market Intelligence' platform. It informs farmers about market trends. "It helps them decide the ideal time and place to sell their produce," says Benjamin Addom, in charge of the project at CTA. For the weather, CTA works together with the MUIIS project in Uganda. Using European satellite images, it provides meteorological and agronomic information. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has chosen Senegal and Rwanda as testing sites for implementing its 'Agricultural Services and Digital Inclusion in Africa' programme, which also provides meteorological information. "It provides real added value in the face of climate change, telling farmers when it is best to turn the soil, sow and harvest crops, allowing them to increase their yield and income," says Cezar Santos Alvarez, part of the IT division at the FAO.
There are, however, many barriers to the development of ICT. The first is sociological. Due to illiteracy, "certain systems use radio and the development of local FM stations to provide agricultural information," says Chris Addison. The second barrier is the lack of equipment in rural areas. "In many villages where there is low coverage, people rent access to their mobile phone, like a payphone in the past," says Jean-Michel Huet by way of a comparison. "In addition, the cost of satellite technology has dropped sharply." Finally, there is a strategic question, that of the right farmers have to this data and its potential use by third parties.
ICT can also help reduce food waste
In Nigeria, the Internet platform Chowberry puts farmers' whose fruits and vegetables are approaching their expiry date into touch directly with low-income consumers, such as orphanages and nursing homes, which benefit from lower prices. "It is a way to reduce food waste, combat poverty and allow farmers to access new markets," explains the founder of the project, Oscar Ekponimo, a CTA partner.