The mFarmer Initiative – supporting the launch of mobile information services for farmers

The mFarmer initiative was launched in June 2011 in recognition of the huge potential for the mobile and agriculture industry to work together to provide in demand and valued services for smallholder farmers through the mobile channel.

One of the core problems that farmers face is access to vital agriculture information and advice on topics such as pests and diseases, weather, and proven farming practices. Many delivery models such as radio and face-to-face training, have proven effective but are often too labour intensive so reach only a fraction of poor farmers or are not targeted to individual farmer’s needs or timing constraints.  In developing countries, access to mobile phones is growing dramatically even amongst those at the base of the economic pyramid, providing a new and powerful channel of communication and the ability to link previously excluded rural communities to up–to-date information and two-way communication exchanges.

We’ve seen increasing interest from mobile operators and service providers who recognise the importance of providing mobile products that can offer real value to the rural customers. At the same time, agriculture organisations are also identifying the significance of utilising the rapidly expanding mobile infrastructure to accelerate the provision of high-quality agricultural information services.

We understand that setting up these services can be challenging and so the mFarmer Fund provides support to mobile communications service providers, in partnership with other public and private sector agriculture organisations, to use mobile communications to provide information and advisory services to smallholder farmers in developing countries living on under US$2 per day. The initiative aims to provide two million farmers in developing countries with valued information by 2013.

The main components of the mFarmer Initiative include:

  • A challenge fund ($100-400K)
  • Technical Assistance to support the implementation of agriculture services
  • Provision of digital agriculture content
  • Research on the impact of services
  • Sharing of best practices and learnings

The Fund is available in twelve countries: South Asia (India) and Sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia); and is managed through a competitive, deadline-driven basis by an independent assessment panel. We’re excited to be able to shortly share the details of the first organization to be granted through the mFarmer Fund Panel. We’re currently accepting applications for the third and final fund panel meeting so please do get in contact if you have plans to launch an Agri VAS within the target countries. For more information on mFarmer, please email or visit the page.

More widely the mFarmer initiative aims to share and exchange best practices, learnings and tools with any country or organization involved in providing Agri VAS to smallholder farmers; and this blog will be one of the channels used to provide insights and information to support service providers, policy makers and agencies share learnings to drive this industry forward.

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