ICT Improves Farmers' Productivity

ICT Improves Farmers' Productivity

We are living in a digital age, where information travels at the speed of light. In recent years, most sectors have enjoyed a fair share of technology adoption, allowing them to easily create and share content with players and end-users for improved productivity. Somehow, the agriculture sector lagged behind, more especially in least developed countries, including Malawi. The situation is however, slowly improving.

The National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) is one of the farmer organisations that has adopted use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to reach out to farmers with relevant and timely information that aims to improve their farming business.

NASFAM Head of Policy and Communications, Ms. Beatrice Makwenda, says “NASFAM saw the huge gap that existed with regard to disseminating information to our members in a timely manner. That pushed us to think of ways of dealing with the problem.

“Then, we had two projects which were interested in reaching out to beneficiaries with weather advisory messages through mobile phone text messages. So, with the help of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), and the Green Climate Fund (through the Malawi Government and UNDP), NASFAM developed a push SMS platform which has been operational since 2018.

“It is pleasing to note that the platform proved very useful with the coming of Covid-19. Due to restrictions, it was difficult for field officers to hold physical meetings with farmers, hence using technology was the most ideal alternative. We reached out to farmers with important information through their phone handsets. The information would range from Climate Smart Agriculture interventions, market access, post-harvest handling, Covid-19 prevention measures, and climate and weather advisory messages, among others,” explained Makwenda.

Victoria Zimba, 46, from Mbemba Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kyungu, Karonga, is one of the farmers benefiting from the SMS service.

PHOTO: Mwayipape and Zimba reading advisory messages from NASFAM

 “The messages have been helpful to my farming business. Talking about weather advisory messages, there are times when I have made important decisions about my farming based on the messages received. I remember at some point I was advised that we would not receive rainfall that week, as such I had to rent irrigation equipment to sustain my crop for that dry period,” said Victoria Zimba.

“This year, the messages I received in January helped me time rice nursery preparation. The messages alerted me that week beginning 5 January, 2022, we would receive rains, so I timed my activities accordingly. It is a critical service in this era of climate change,” Zimba added.

Youngson Mwayipape, 68, from Phaniso Village Traditional Authority (T/A) Kilupura, Karonga, is a lead farmer who also receives advisory text messages from NASFAM. He says “When I receive these messages, I share with my fellow farmers so that they make informed decisions in their farming business. Depending on the seasonal forecast, a farmer decides whether to grow early maturing or late maturing varieties. In so doing, we minimise losses.”

PHOTO: Sample messages sent by NASFAM to its members with support form the UNDP, through the MClimes project

NASFAM uses a push SMS system where registered users receive an SMS on their handset at no cost. With the system, every registered user has an equal opportunity to access weather alerts, extension messages, and other advisory messages, bridging the gap created by gender barriers.

Apart from mobile phone text messages, NASFAM also reaches out to its members with extension and advisory services through weekly radio programming using national and community radio stations, short videos, and print media, all in vernacular languages.