By Teddy Searight
Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is undergoing a digital revolution bought about through the advancement and increasing availability of mobile technologies. Improved affordability has placed mobile devices in the hands of more African’s than ever before, with 444 million subscribed users in 2017. Take Tanzania for example where the average cost of mobile phones has fallen by more than half in five years to just over $100 today.
The potential of digital technologies for improving the lives of smallholder farmers and securing global food supply is just beginning to be realized. Check out a recent CABI Blog article on how a ‘diet’ of digital data can help feed the world by providing useful and timely crop management information for smallholder farmers in Africa.
CABI’s Fertiliser Optimisation Tool (FOT) is an app-based mobile technology helping farmers get the most out of their crops by advising them on how best to use fertilizer to grow healthier and more profitable crops while minimizing the economic and environmental costs associated with excessive fertilizer use.
Considering the future of sustainable agricultural in Africa rests with its youth population, expected to number 700 million by 2030, young people are undeniably the best placed group to capitalize and benefit most from new digital opportunities such as the FOT.
Alex Mukwanga uses his platform as Community Development Facilitator in Jinja district, near Lake Victoria in Uganda to reach as many farmers as possible. He says, “young people under 25 have embraced the technology more than older farmers, possibly because they are willing to try new things. Young people are also tech-savvy, which makes it easier for them to grasp the concept of FOT”.
He also believes that the financial constraints facing younger farmers means they have to save money where possible compared to older farmers. This is evidenced by the comparatively higher number of youths he is working with compared to other age categories. Alex has currently introduced the FOT to 25 farmers, 10 of whom are young farmers (below 25 years). Erwaine Jackson is one of those young farmers.
Erwaine is a 24-year-old farmer growing mainly maize and beans on one acre of land in Jinja. Two years ago, he took up farming after graduating from university, while searching for other employment in a challenging job market. He spoke to the CABI project team about his struggles in cultivating maize;
“I used to apply Diammonium Phosphate and urea fertilizers on my maize crop until the whole farm was covered as I did not have any particular guidelines to follow on how much to apply. The expenditure on fertilizer was so much and I got discouraged. This season, Alex approached me and advised me of the new FOT tool and that it helps to calculate the right amount of fertilizer and how to apply, based on the money I have to invest in fertilizer.”
To help make the most of the money spent on fertilizer, he tried the FOT app and downloaded it onto his phone. He hasn’t looked back since, saying;
“The facilitator also explained to me how to apply the fertilizer so that it covers the entire garden[farm]. I feel this approach saves money by applying only what is required. The crop looks promising and is comparatively better than for my neighbours who did not apply any fertilizer.”
Before using the FOT app, Erwaine used to spend around UGX100,000 ($28) on urea, meaning his fertilizer costs have been slashed in half.
For young people, the ubiquity and affordability of mobile technology is fast becoming one of the driving forces behind overcoming barriers to markets and access to education and training. New digital innovations, such as the FOT, are helping meet the demands of a younger face of farming, shaped by an increasingly digital world. A tech-savvy generation hungers for tech-solutions.
FOT project video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=-Nlfw1z7WMs
FOT app for download – https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.cabi.ofra