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Spring 2013

Inexpensive Mobile Platform Connects Agribusinesses to Work Together Better

For more than 10 years, DAI has been integrating information, communication, and geospatial technology into our work around the globe.

But to take full advantage of the possibilities of new communication tools, we needed strategic partners with technical resources and comprehensive mobile solutions geared to solving development problems.

One such company is eSeal, an India-based company that uses mobile phone technology and “electronic seals” to trace products from manufacture to packaging to consumer, ensuring customers get what they pay for. ESeal has developed mobile solutions for 12 industries, including agriculture, pharmaceuticals, auto, hardware, liquor, and chemicals.

Photo of farmers in Zambia using mobile technology.

Our discussions with eSeal led to the creation of FarmerConnect, a mobile platform that delivers valuable information to farmers and facilitates communication within agricultural value chains. The system ensures that farmers get the technical inputs they need—certified seed, fertilizer, and soil inoculants, for example—to farm most productively. FarmerConnect also enables input providers to connect with farmers and educate them about products and promotions. These interactions can be conducted even in the poorest parts of the world through the cheap and ubiquitous mobile phone.

The idea is to help farmers anywhere in the world improve productivity and the economics of their businesses, and in turn to help alleviate poverty. As the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future program points out: “There is broad consensus that reducing global poverty and hunger requires accelerating growth in the agriculture sector, and recent studies suggest that every 1 percent increase in agricultural income per capita reduces the number of people living in extreme poverty by between 0.6 and 1.8 percent.”

Farming Gets The Information Advantage

One way to help farmers accelerate growth—and increase agriculture-based income in general—is to expand their access to relevant and timely information. Use of the FarmerConnect platform is free to farmers with the most basic SMS-enabled handset and access to a mobile network. The platform gives the farmer day-to-day crop practices, eco-region intelligence, information about available supplies and resources, and ways to transact business through multiple channels, including web and mobile (text and voice). Content can be provided or tailored by partner facilitator organizations. Messages can be automated based on documented good agricultural practices and pre-set messaging. Since FarmerConnect is an internet-based platform, there is no investment required in hardware or software.

This platform also enables facilitators such as government agencies, development donors, project implementers, and commercial producers to connect easily with the farmers. These facilitators can design their own programs and messages to be sent to their target audiences. Likewise, agriculture extension organizations are able to register farmers, build their profiles, and send them relevant information.

Photo of bags of grain in a warehouse.

All these users can take advantage of FarmerConnect to support their programs and messaging at low transactional connection costs. The system is free to farmers, and noncommercial organizations such as farm cooperatives and associations are able to use a variety of free services. There is a low per-message cost for noncommercial organizations and a premium cost for commercial entities, as well as a fee for premium services and customization.

More than 70,000 farmers are being supported with FarmerConnect in India, and an increasing number of entities are paying to use the system. We believe the model will be sustainable because it can provide value to farmers and agricultural stakeholders beyond the limited lifecycle of a donor-funded project.

Technology is a dynamic tool. It can amplify voices and empower people beyond what has been historically possible. FarmerConnect is just one of the tools we are developing to enable individuals, groups, and even whole societies to better organize, gain access, communicate, report, learn, and support accountability.


Photo of Chuck Coon

Chuck Coon is a senior technical writer in DAI’s strategy and marketing group.