New digital tool to empower farmers to access extension services

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Do you want extension services or market information or a loan without meeting anyone face to face? For the farmers in northern Uganda and West Nile, a new digital tool is going to empower farmers to access extension services and market information through the mobile telephones. 

“This is going to be the answer to the challenges we face as farmers,” said David Oceng, a farmer in Kitgum. “We can also negotiate better prices.”

He added, “We will get to know the best inputs we need for growing different crops, the best sources of inputs (input dealers) and the prices on the mobile phone.”

Oceng said they have been making attempts to increase the productivity in the farming sector of northern Uganda but the application of ICT is proving to be the best game-changer.

He was speaking recently at the launch of the “inclusive digital innovation in agriculture” at the Uganda Media Center in Kampala. The inclusive digital innovation has been developed by the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), in partnership with the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and financial technology firms under funding amounting to $15m (sh1.6b). Judith Nabakooba, the Minister for ICT presided over the launching of the digital tool.

Most output from agriculture is from small scale farmers contributing up to 78%. However, smallholder farmers do not have access to extension services and credit services.

“Digitization is going to bridge the extension gap,” said Uhuru Sserubiri, CEO of Cabraltech ltd adding that the digital tool is going to complement the traditional extension services.

He said they were going to profile the farmers, their age gender and that this would be used to establish the information needs of the farmers. They also rely on secondary data of the farmers.

The transformation of agriculture is only possible with building the capacity of the farmers. This is going to be undertaken through basic agricultural practices, marketing and bulking.

The UNCDF Digital Country Lead, Uganda Chris Lukolyo said the five-year project that seeks to ensure digital inclusivity will see farmers equipped with digital skills to enable them access agricultural-related advisory and extension services digitally.

The services include weather patterns, markets, prices and the type of crops to grow on particular soil types.

Lukolyo said that while this information is ordinarily provided by extension workers, Uganda lacks adequate numbers to serve all farmers.

“These are the things that an extension worker can tell a farmer but there are not enough extension workers for all farmers across the country. So we want to leverage digital platforms to extend advisory and other extension services to the rural farmers,” he said.

The programme is being implemented with the support of the Swedish government, through the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency, which is targeting women, youth, refugees and migrants, who are normally underserved when it comes to digital solutions.

Lukolyo noted that they chose Northern Uganda and West Nile as a starting point for the intervention but noted they are open to extending to other regions should there be willing partners to implement a similar project.

The programme will also see farmer partners leverage the digital platform and assess the creditworthiness of farmers to enable them access credit for inputs without having to present collateral (land titles and buildings), which commercial banks always ask for.

Creditworthiness will be assessed using information gathered by Hamwe East Africa, a fintech that uses digital solutions to transform Uganda’s agriculture and enhance production and productivity.

The Hamwe East Africa chief executive officer, Allan Asiimwe said the fintech which specialises in the digitisation of agricultural value chains will use its M-Farmer Application (App), to extend the benefits of technology to the agricultural value chains. The value chains include farmers, traders, processors and consumers to enable them build better records, increase the efficiency of operations and make informed decisions.

Source: New Vision