Phones spread farm information

Self Help AfricaMalawi, News

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Mobile phones are now being employed by Self help Africa in an innovative new project to spread farming information.

For many years, Self Help Africa has helped farmers to access information on how they can improve their farming practices.

A practice known as agricultural extension, our work in this area has seen us partner with local and national organisations to spread farming knowledge. One of the challenges in this work has always been scale – how to build a system that can reach large numbers of farmers in a cost efficient way.

A new initiative – currently being piloted in Malawi – gives Self Help Africa an opportunity to bring further scale to this work. The project sees us partnering with the country’s main mobile network, Airtel, to push text, voice and in-person agricultural advice – in the majority of cases, for free – to farmers around that country.

There are now over 65 mobile phones for every 100 people living in Africa, so using this network to spread farming information has very significant potential. “We have brought together a large group to advise on the content of these messages,” said Amos Zaindi, Self Help Africa’s country director for Malawi.

“We’ve launched the service in September and hope that it will grow quite quickly. Farmers will get free text messages, with general advice on crops such as maize and tobacco; they will be able to phone a freephone number to get more specific advice on these crops, and for lead farmers, we’re providing a number which ‘lead’ farmers can use to get in touch directly with Ministry of Agriculture staff.

For mobile phone service providers like Airtel, providing useful ‘public information’ content to their subscribers gives them a competitive edge. They have placed a commercial value on the extent of the free service at approximately $1.25m, and hope that its success in Malawi will allow them – and Self Help Africa – to offer it in other countries on the continent such as Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana.