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Seven reasons why Mexico is ripe to become a global leader in mAgri initiatives

August 10, 2016 | mAgri | Latin America & the Caribbean | Mexico | Guest Blogger

mAgri projects have a high potential to increase farmers’ revenue and productivity. But unlike many developing countries, Mexico seems to have been left out by mAgri initiatives. According to GSMA’s mAgri Deployment Tracker, there have been only two of these projects in Mexico: MásAgro Móvil and DigitalICS (now closed). At Esoko México, we strongly believe in mAgri to help farmers improve their quality of life and we trust that Mexico should be a global leader of mAgri initiatives. Here are our top reasons why:

1. The needs of Mexican farmers are huge

Of the 5.3 million farmers in Mexico, 3.9 million earn an income of less than USD 1,000 annually. 61 per cent of Mexican farmers live in poverty[1]. Despite efforts and investment in rural areas by the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture (SAGARPA), poverty has only marginally been reduced: between 2003 and 2013, the budget for rural areas increased by 170 per cent, but poverty was only reduced by four per cent[2].

Like many other developing countries, the reasons for the lack of competitiveness in Mexican agriculture and the low income of its farmers are the insufficient linkages with markets, low productivity and limited access to financing. The lack of access to specific information (market prices, locations of buyers, reliable weather forecasts etc.), and quality knowledge (best farming practices, how to get rid of pests etc.) can partly explains farmers’ poverty.

2. Recognition at all levels that farmers should have access to quality information and knowledge

As SAGARPA puts it, “Knowledge, research and technological development have not been fully translated into innovations to increase productivity in the food industry because they are not linked effectively with the demands and needs of the farmers. […] The challenge is to promote the development of viable programs and projects with high social impact in order to stimulate the productive and creative capacities of farmers, thereby joining efforts to help those facing extreme poverty and severe food shortages”[3].

3. The impacts of mAgri have been proven!

In a world increasingly more connected, Mexican farmers should be able to have access to key information and knowledge. Timely access to information could help them sell at a higher price, find new buyers, know when rain is coming, or how to get a small loan. Knowledge also means access to new farming techniques to increase their productivity and improve the quality of their produce – and a way out of poverty.

A well deployed mobile for agriculture (mAgri) initiative such as Esoko has shown to increase farmers’ revenue by nine per cent[4] and their productivity by 11 per cent[5] – even using basic cellphones! Esoko has operated in Africa for over eight years improving farmers’ quality of life by sending market prices, weather alerts and agricultural best practices – amongst other information – to farmers’ mobiles by SMS and through a call center. SMS? Call center? Yes, neither of those are the latest technology, but they do work in rural areas provided they are used to disseminate high quality content.

4. Good, ‘basic’ connections in rural areas

One might say that if farmers do not have access to such information and knowledge, it is because they are disconnected from the world. Although that may be true in other regions of the world, 60 per cent of people living in rural areas have access to a mobile phone in Mexico[6], most of them being basic mobile phones.

It is probably too early for an app-based mAgri initiative in Mexico. According to the GSMA Intelligence report ‘Country overview Mexico – Mobile driving growth, innovation and opportunity’, by the end of 2015, 36 per cent of the Mexican population had subscribed to mobile broadband services (3G and above), up from seven per cent in 2010. There are still around six million people not covered by a mobile broadband network, most of whom live in remote or poor areas. Most importantly however, 59 per cent of the population, or over 70 million people, are covered by a mobile broadband network but don´t subscribe. These people are most likely to be in lower income groups for whom affordability is still an impediment, but lack of digital skills and absence of locally relevant content are considered the main barriers for digital inclusion, and mAgri projects can help close that gap. A focus on mAgri technologies that work in rural areas (such as SMS, IVR and call centers) should be favoured and will allow for farmers to take advantage of the benefits of mobile connectivity.

5. High literacy

Mexico has a literacy rate of 93 per cent[7] and the great majority of Mexican people speak and read Spanish, making it favourable to deploy SMS-based mAgri projects at a national level. And for those that cannot read well or only speak one of the 68 distinct indigenous languages in Mexico, there is the possibility to deploy tailored-made IVR and call centers like Esoko has done in Africa.

6. Available quality research for content development

Mexico is a world leader in terms of climate and ecosystem diversity and has been recognised by the U.N. Environment Program as one of the 17 ‘megadiverse’ countries. This could be perceived as a high challenge to develop precise and quality content for farmers at a national level. The good news is that Mexico also enjoys renowned universities and research centers such as Chapingo Autonoma University or CIMMYT which can be of great help with the development of high quality content for farmers.

7. A nascent and active ‘ICT for agri’ community

It is not impossible to develop mAgri in Mexico as MásAgro Móvil and DigitalICS have already proven it. If one looks deeper into the Mexican tech and agriculture ecosystems, there are several other ICT initiatives that have emerged to provide quality information and knowledge to farmers. For example, SI-Agro by Compu Campo is a high-end geographical service of agricultural information in the cloud for the capture, processing, and analysis of technical and economic information at plot level. SAGARPA and the Ministry of Economy have set up a phone number to give farmers access to market price information. Also, SAGARPA recently released three mobile apps for farmers: Sagarpa Apoyos, Sagarpa Produce and Sagarpa Mercados, whose objectives are to connect farmers with buyers, help them with their crops, and provide information about SAGARPA programs.

The Esoko platform from Africa was also launched in Mexico in 2015 under the brand ‘Esoko México’ to provide high value content to Mexican farmers through SMS, a call center and an app; Esoko is now the technology platform linking the MásAgro Móvil program to farmers. And there are many more actors – including Maxi Terra, SIAFESON, and SIAFEG – that aim to improve Mexican farmers’ quality of life using high-quality content and technology.

Farmers’ needs are huge and the positive impacts of mAgri are proven. Despite the many challenges and barriers, the context has been increasingly favourable for the deployment of mAgri in Mexico. We cannot wait for the conditions to improve on their own before developing quality content and information technologies for farmers in Mexico. Collaboration amongst all current and potential actors will be key if we want farmers to improve their lives and we at Esoko México are happy to lead these efforts.

José Luis Amaya and Nicolas Demeilliers are co-founders of Esoko México.
 


 
[1] Source: SAGARPA: Diagnóstico del sector rural y pesquero de México 2012
[2] Source: subsidiosalcampo.org.mx
[3] Source: Translated from SAGARPA: Diagnóstico del sector rural y pesquero de México 2012
[4] Source: Hildebrandt et al. (March 2016), “Price Information: Inter-village networks, and bargaining spillovers”: Experimental Evidence from Ghana,
[5] Source: Kremer et al. (March 2014), Harnessing ICT to Increase Agricultural Production: Evidence From Kenya
[6] Source: Elaborated with information from INEGI based on ENIGH, 2014
[7] Source: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.ADT.LITR.ZS

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