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Tanzania farmers want in on the Mobile Revolution; believe tech can get them better deals

Dar es Salaam. Farmers in the country -- who constitute about 75 per cent of the workforce -- will reap more benefits from use of cellular phones only if experts can design appropriate software to help users access information cheaply.


During the harvesting season, speculators come here and buy our rice cheaply, taking advantage of our poor conditions, then they re-sell it at double the price during scarcity,” laments Mr Kimbu.


                                                                                                         

“The fact that poor farmers cannot access easily to market information, they end up getting the lowest deals,” he says.
However, ICT experts are of the opinion that cellular phones fitted with special software to enable it access assorted information – including market data and fluctuations – can help farmers bargain for better deals.

Speaking during a recent forum on ICT and agriculture organised by a firm that deals with farming business promotion through ICT, 2Seeds TZ Masoko, various experts expressed concern over lack of sound ICT policy for creating a conducive environment for smallholder farmers to expand production and earn more income.

Assistant lecturer on ICT and development at the University of Dar es Salaam, Mr Hezron Makundi, says that short text messages sent through cellular phones can be an effective means of communication to enable farmers access reliable market information and widen the pool of potential buyers.

“Using websites may be too complicated for farmers. All they need is where to find markets for their products. Between 40 and 42 per cent of farmers own a mobile phone, such information can be sent to them via SMS,” argues Makundi.

According to him, ICT can play an important role in providing information on weather forecasts, farm inputs, extension services, market prices and crop or animal diseases.

“Improvement of payment systems like M-pesa, Tigo-Pesa and Airtel money through mobile phones can easily enable farmers to overcome hurdles such as inaccessibility to financial services and farm inputs,” he says. Through such communication even big agribusiness projects can be monitored and run efficiently.

Other projects transportation, infrastructure building, control of irrigation canals, information dissemination on quality seeds, the use of pesticides and insecticides to combat crop diseases and dealers of animal drugs to cure livestock diseases and protect them from viral infections, according to him.


Mr Bakari says that the ICT agribusiness incubator would be used to build farmers’ capacity to access various information on domestic and export markets for agricultural products, quality seeds, weather information, plant and animal diseases, farmers’ education and extension services and data on market and prices for agricultural products.
“There are many initiatives being done under Costech in relation to ICT and agriculture. We’re undertaking ICT review, capacity building project for ICT enterprises. For example currently we are supporting Uza Mazao, which is one of the best ICT software in Africa,” he says.

He also challenges ICT software developers to stimulate the linkage with other stakeholders and professionals in order to come up with relevant software for farmers to adopt effectively.

ICT developer and consultant, Mr Ernest Mwalusanya, says that through designing appropriate ICT software, it is possible to apply in various aspects of agriculture, including crop production, aquaculture, fishing, horticulture, agroforestry, beekeeping and livestock production.

Mr Mwalusanya expresses concern on low use of ICT in agriculture due to lack of relevant software for mobile phones.
Latest report from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) shows that the number of cell phone subscribers now stands at 25 million in the country, indicating that more than half of Tanzanians use mobile phones.

ICT experts argue that this is an opportunity that is yet to be tapped because a number of agribusiness products can be installed to mobilise small holder farmers engage in productive farming practices and generate more incomes.

By thecitizen

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