Mobile phones can help save a farmer’s livelihood

draughtFor real innovation and brilliant services when it comes to mobile payments, you really have to look to Africa. There are vast rural populations in Africa that have no access to telecoms or banking services – and mobile phones are providing a desperately needed lifeline. It’s no coincidence that the most successful mobile money system in the world is African. And now a brilliant new service is ensuring that farmers are never left destitute after a crop failure – all through mobile devices.

What’s the service?

Imagine that you own a small farm in Kenya. You have invested most of your money in fertilisers and seeds, and have planted at the right time. Then a draught sweeps the area, and you lose your entire crop and your entire initial investment. In the case of very large farms, insurance is an option. It’s an expensive option though, and requires on-site inspections and loss assessment. This is something that small farms can’t really afford. So when small farmers in these poorer rural areas lose their crops, they get nothing back.

This is where the Syngenta Foundation comes in.

The Foundation is dedicated to creating sustainable agriculture in Africa, based around small farmers. It has created an insurance plan for Kenyan small farmers called “Kilimo Salama”, which means “safe farming” in the local dialect. The insurance plan is based around mobile micropayments and cameraphones and is incredibly easy for farmers to use:

1) When you buy a bag of seed, take a picture of it’s barcode on a cameraphone.
2) Send the picture by premium MMS to Kilimo Salama. This is the most important step in the process. Not only does the premium MMS cover the micropayment (the farmer’s insurance payment is included in the cost of sending the picture), but it also registers that bag of seed as belonging to the farmer who owns that mobile phone. So the sending of the MMS handles both insurance registration and payment.
3) Solar-powered weather stations around Kenya monitor conditions. These stations can determine if the weather is severe enough to cause crop failures. So if your crop fails because of draught, and you’ve registered your seed with Kilimo Salama, you receive an insurance paymeny. This step ensures that costly on-site inspections aren’t necessary.

What we think?

This isn’t the first time mobile has been used as a method to protect small farmers. Last year, GoMo News reported on the “community knowledge workers” initiative created by the Grameen Foundation. These community knowledge workers send text messages to farmers with locally targeted information. The texts include expert advice on what crops to plant, how to avoid avoid and treat diseases, and a how to increase yields. It’s another good example of how mobiles are simply the most effective way to mass communicate in these areas.

But the Syngenta programme is even more effective – it combines elements of mass communication and education with micropayments and banking services to the unbanked. All through mobile phones.

About Cian O' Sullivan

Ace reporter, Cian, has moved on from GoMo News. He is currently the office manager for Photocall Ireland - Ireland's premier news and PR photography agency. You can check out the site at www.photocallireland.com. If you want to contact him directly about anything, Cian's new email is cian at photocallireland dot com.
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