KAPTUMO, Kenya — In Kaptumo, female farmer and mother Clara prepared her two cows for milking. She noticed one of them struggled to stand up that morning and for three days thereafter, so she used a digital exchange platform, or short message service (SMS), called WeFarm to find a solution.
Within 10 minutes, a WeFarm member who had the same problem responded to Clara’s message with a solution. She was told to feed the cow calcium-rich and phosphorous feed because her cow had a mineral deficiency, which made the cow’s bones weak. Another farmer suggested Clara start to grow a hydroponic fodder for mineral substitution as a cheaper solution.
SMS technology provides farmers with data that’s normally inaccessible, such as instant weather updates and wholesale prices for crops. This pertinent information may benefit productivity and product negotiation, according to The Guardian. The World Bank reported mobile networks as a “unique and unparalleled opportunity to give rural smallholders access to information that could transform their livelihoods.”
WeFarm’s digital exchange platform allows farmers worldwide to network without internet connectivity. It’s a no-cost service serving as a platform for farmers to get solution-based answers to their questions on productivity. Now the company has a community of over 72,000 users in Kenya, Uganda and Peru, according to Kenny Ewan, WeFarm’s CEO and founder.
“This empowers farmers to implement low-cost, tried-and-tested solutions on their farm that will increase their resilience to climate change, improve crop yield, reduce waste and ultimately improve their livelihoods,” Ewan said.
After farmers register with WeFarm, they receive a national shortcode permitting a use of the SMS. The digital exchange platform directs questions to relevant farmers, who respond using the SMS, and WeFarm sends the information back to the inquiring farmer.
Many small-scale farmers are affected by climate change and lack of access to traditional markets and agricultural protection products. Roughly 500 million smallholder farmers live on less than $1 a day, according to WeFarm.
In Kenya, over 50 percent of all sugar cane farmers own cell phones. However, IPA field testing found almost 90 percent get mobile phone accessibility from a neighbor or relative. Currently, WeFarm is most successful in Kenya, where they first launched.
“The majority of our farmers access WeFarm on basic feature phones (97%),” Ewan said. “The remainder accesses our online service via smartphones or computers. Typically the latter group have a farm but are based in more urban areas.”
Due to the scarcity of access to information on agricultural improvements, farmers’ incomes are suffering, according to USAID. Roughly 75 percent of the globally impoverished depend on agricultural yields to survive. An increase in farm productivity is one response to addressing poverty.
After WeFarm notified Clara of the correct mineral and hydroponic fodder to save her cow’s life, she also increased the cow’s healthy milk production one week later. Her milk sales from the local market sustain herself and family of five.
– Rachel Williams