The Market-led User-owned ICT4Ag-Enabled Information Service (MUIIS) project, which is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and managed by CTA, seeks to use the power of ICTs to help farmers in Uganda increase their productivity and earn more money.
In March 2017, MUIIS launched a unique ‘service bundle’ which provides farmers with agronomic tips, weather alerts and index-based insurance, all delivered by text to their mobile phones. Robinah Najjuma, a mother of five who farms in Zirobwe district in Central Region, was one of the first to subscribe to the MUIIS service bundle.
“In the past, I never planted maize in straight lines, but I do now, and I have also followed all the advice about when to sow my crops and how to treat pests and diseases,” she explains. “This year, I’m expecting to get 2.5 tonnes per acre (6.18t/ha).” In contrast, the maize belonging to her neighbours is faring poorly and they will be fortunate if they get 1 tonne per acre (2.47t/ha). Unlike Robinah, they haven’t benefited from the advice delivered by MUIIS.
The project’s value proposition is simple. “MUIIS is a business, not just a development project,” says CTA’s Carol Kakooza, Chief of Party for MUIIS. “It is a one-stop service which helps farmers to grow more and sell more.” The ultimate aim of the three-year project is to reach 350,000 Ugandan farmers through training and awareness raising, and increase the crop yields of some 200,000 Ugandan farmers by at least 25% and their incomes by at least 20%.
In addition to CTA, the main project partners include Mercy Corps, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, aWhere Inc, EARS Earth Environment Monitoring, eLEAF BV and the East Africa Farmers’ Federation (EAFF). Some partners have hired other organisations to implement the project.EAFF, for example, has delegated responsibility for working with farmers to the Ugandan Cooperatives Alliance (UCA) and the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE). These organisations oversee the work of the MUIIS Service Agents who are responsible for profiling farmers and the sale of products to the farmers. The messages farmers receive are tailored to their individual needs, as defined in their profiles.
By the end of 2017, over 230,000 farmers had been directly influenced by the project, having received training or attended talks given by MUIIS service agents. The project has also profiled 150,000 farmers. However, these figures need to be put in perspective. It was originally hoped that 100,000 farmers would sign up for the service bundle by the end of the second, but just 379 subscribed during the second season.
“In the end, it all comes down to cost,” says Ben Addom, CTA’s Programme Coordinator for ICTs, who leads the implementation of the project. “Most farmers in Uganda are used to getting advisory service for free and they are unwilling to pay for such a product.” The project urgently needs to prove its value for money by gathering data about the increase in yields experienced by those who have subscribed to the service and the advantages of paying for index-based insurance.
The good news is that financial institutions, such as Rabobank Foundation, have seen the value of MUIIS and are piloting an agricultural input loan scheme with about 5,000 MUIIS farmers during the first crop season of 2018.
Despite the initially slow uptake of MUIIS services, UCA and the UNFFE – who will assume ownership of MUIIS after the funding comes to an end – believe the project will be hugely beneficial, both for their member associations and the farmers who sign up to the service bundle. “Of all the projects I have worked with, this one connects most closely with smallholder farmers,” says Ronah Nyiraneza of UCA.