Technological innovation is becoming increasingly important in agricultural development and productivity. The use of mobile ICT (information and communication technology) in agriculture provides a more efficient and cost-effective method for sharing and exchanging knowledge more widely. Farmers are benefiting as they can access key information such as pest and disease reports, weather conditions and market prices. It can also improve communication between farmers and extensions workers, who are unable to visit farmers as often as both parties would like. Enhancing communication between farmers, extension workers, researchers and policy makers is essential to the improvement of agricultural efficiency.
In 2013 Plantwise plans to carry out mobile data collection pilots in two countries, including Kenya. Mobile technology will strengthen the impact that Plantwise can have for developing countries by providing access to Knowledge Bank tools, as well as providing a platform for plant clinic data collection, including image submission. CABI already provides the scientific expertise for Direct2Farm, a mobile infomediary service which aims to make quality, customised information accessible to farmers. Short SMS or voice messages deliver the material, which farmers can then apply to their business in order to increase profitability. The recent pilot scheme in India has received positive feedback from its target audience.
There are a number of challenges to consider when planning the implementation of mobile technology. Perhaps the most important of these to consider is the context of the technology and the requirements of the end user. There is not one app or one device that will suit all situations in all countries. Some regions can easily embrace tablets with advanced apps, whereas other countries may find information via SMS a better solution. The technology doesn’t have to be complicated. Inputting data using an Excel spreadsheet and sharing it via Dropbox may be the ideal solution in some cases.
There are many variables which could determine the correct solution for an area, including access to electricity, network coverage and bandwidth. If connectivity is low, a cloud system such as ThunderPlug could be used. This synchronises real-time data from devices up to 200 feet away. The information can then be processed locally and uploaded when a connection can be made. In areas where electricity is unreliable and conditions are suitable, solar panels may be used in the charging of devices.
The ICT abilities of the people in the area must also be considered. Providing the technology is not enough in ensuring a sustainable project. Investment into training users and providing technology support is essential in making the most from ICT, and ensuring the projects continue to be successful. Teams carrying out monitoring and evaluation (M&E) are also needed to assess the project throughout. Communication between assessors allows projects to learn from the experiences of others, so the best practices for the area can be used. These can be shared through media such as radio or leaflets.
A recent online forum organised by World bank and e-Agriculture invited people to share their experiences of mobile technology. The discussion has been summarised in a policy brief, available in multiple languages. There were a number of apps highlighted, including iFormBuilder, which is used in over 110 countries to allow real-time data upload and offline data collection.
If you have had experience with mobile technology in agriculture, please share your thoughts by commenting below.