In October 2015, a consortium led by CTA begun developing a bundle of agricultural information products to be sold through SMS and smartphone apps to enable Ugandan farmers to access satellite-based crop advice. The project, entitled Market-led, User-owned ICT4Ag enabled Information Service (MUIIS), provides agricultural extension advisory services to farmers at the swipe of a screen.
MUIIS information products include weather forecasts and alerts, crop management and agronomic tips, and financial services, such as index-based insurance for crop farmers in Africa.
While affordable, accessible and good quality seeds, fertilisers and agro-chemicals are seen as vital for improving the productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers in developing countries, timely and accurate information for using these inputs is often overlooked.
To deliver ICT-enabled extension services to farmers, MUIIS combines the expertise of seven key public and private sector partners through an innovative but complex multi-stakeholder approach. The information chain (circle) of MUIIS has three components: data, knowledge and information. Each of these components has dedicated partners with experience and expertise in delivering the products, making sure that the products from each part of the chain complement the needs of the other components.
Three of the partners – eLEAF Competence Center (eLEAF), EARS Earth Environment Monitoring (EARS-E2M), and aWhere Inc – are from the private sector and bring creativity and innovation to the project, making sure that MUIIS is marketable in the long-term, beyond the lifetime of donor support. In addition to the main partners, MUIIS also leverages other third party service providers that see the potential value of the project and are willing to contribute their skills, expertise and experience.
During 2016 the implementation of MUIIS progressed tremendously. The targeted weather and agronomic information, as well as index-based insurance services were developed, and an SMS platform to deliver messages to farmers was also developed. A needs-based assessment to understand farmers interest in the products, and their willingness to adopt and pay for information products through MUIIS was carried out. Training and capacity building of MUIIS Service Agents (MSAs) was also begun, with the training of 20 MSAs for baseline data collection and 184 MSAs who have begun training farmers and farmer leaders.
The MUIIS initiative has received plenty of media coverage. As well as local television coverage in Uganda, MUIIS has had radio, newspaper and television coverage in the Netherlands. VPRO Media are also producing a documentary on the project, specifically on how computer robotics and artificial intelligence can improve agriculture.
From the first week of March 2017, over 30,000 farmers, whose profiles were in the MUIIS database, were given the opportunity to start a subscription to the MUIIS Service Bundle which consists of a series of weather alerts, agronomic tips, and index-based drought insurance. A farmer will pay 14,000 Ugandan Shilling (€3.5) per season, per acre of maize, soya bean or sesame for MUIIS. It is estimated that around 100,000 farmers will have been reached by MUIIS by May/June 2017.
One of the most important expected impacts of MUIIS is the decreased vulnerability of food producers to climate related shocks, including droughts, pests and diseases. From the timely, precise and accurate information services provided by MUIIS, farmers will be able to make decisions that, in the longer term, guarantee sustained crop yield and income. If climate related events result in significant crop losses, food producers will be able to claim on crop insurance, which will ensure a sufficient pay-out for a sustainable degree of food security.
It is believed that as the beneficiaries of satellite enabled information services, farmers will be willing to pay for the information services and products just as they pay for other inputs, like seeds and fertilisers.