A mobile phone information service established by Self Help Africa in 2014 to provide timely information to rural poor farmers, has been used almost a quarter of a million times within its start.
Launched in Malawi late last year, the ‘321’ voice activated service provides subscribers to the country’s largest mobile phone network with a suite of farm information services that they can access at the push of a button.
And it’s all free. The service is a collaboration between Self Help Africa, Airtel Malawi and HNI, a US-based organisation seeking to promote the use of technologies to support work in the developing world, and allows users to access voice recorded information on their telephones on a range of agricultural practices.
Content for the service has been created by a consortium that includes Self Help Africa, representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, research scientists and other specialists in agriculture, and in its pilot phase has focussed on answering a range of questions that farmers may have relating to the production of groundnuts and maize.
As the service becomes more established it is proposed to extend the range and scope of information available, while the potential also exists to provide information to farmers on the prices they can receive for their crops, says Self Help Africa Malawi director Amos Zaindi.
Funding is currently being sought to establish a special call-centre for ‘lead farmers’, where detailed and up to date advice could be accessed in real-time from farm experts. The new service has received almost a quarter of a million calls in the past five months, with inquiries currently being received at a rate of approximately 30,000, per month.
In a country where only 5% of rural households have electricity, but upwards of 65% have access to mobiles, the ability of farmers to access information via telephone is invaluable. Self Help Africa and HNI are currently in discussions, with a view to rolling out their innovative phone advice service in Zambia, Burkina Faso and Uganda.