The agriculture app revolution

The agriculture app revolution

As a result of its history, for centuries Africa was left far behind the technological progress that swept the advanced world. But the continent’s young innovators are now making up for lost time. Over the past decade there has been a huge upsurge in innovation and Agriculture-based app innovation is now also emerging in Africa.

Undoubtedly the biggest agriculture-themed app to come out of the continent is iCow from Kenya, which enables farmers to get access to crucial information about their cattle, such as their cows’ fertility cycles and the costs associated with milk production just by using their mobile phones.

With Kenya’s dairy industry worth Ksh 40bn ($464m) a year, the innovation has proved a big breakthrough. The company recently forged a partnership with Kenya’s biggest telecoms company Safaricom to rollout the app out to a larger number of Kenyan farmers.

Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore said at the time of the partnership’s announcement: “Safaricom supports innovation across all sectors and agriculture is one of the most important sectors in Kenya. This innovation will definitely move agriculture forward and Safaricom is happy to be involved in the development of this sector.”

Technological innovation is playing an increasingly vital role in providing crucial services to Africa’s often far-flung populations 

The development was a major breakthrough for an app which had relatively humble beginnings, and the app’s growth up until now has been spectacular – it boasts around 12,000 subscribers, 55% of whom are between 18 and 35 years old.

Another interesting innovation that has come to the fore is m-Farm, an SMS-based service through which Kenyan farmers can text a number to gain information about the value of their products on the market and also buy farm inputs from manufacturers at a low price.

M-farm got under way after winning €10,000 of capital investment in a boot-camp competition called IPO488. It also worked together with Samsung to come up with its mobile app, and it is available on Android and Samsung phones.

Another trailblazing app is Rural eMarket, a market information platform that is proving indispensable to farmers in Madagascar. The app was developed by agronomists after field research in Madagascar in 2011.

According to the developers, the aim of the app is ultimately “to give opportunity to each farmer, especially those in remote rural areas, to sell their products at a reasonable price to the right clients they will choose themselves”.

An important Kenyan agriculture app is M-Shamba, which gives farmers access to a range of crucial information to help improve their productivity – such as weather and climate changes and other information relating to marketing, harvesting and production. Farmers can also communicate with each other through the app, and thus share best practices, and relevant intelligence.

The app can be accessed on both smart and dumb phones. Currently around 4,000 Kenyan rice farmers are using the app.

Given the increasingly vital role that technological innovation is playing in providing crucial services to Africa’s often far-flung populations and attempting to fill in the yawning gap that the current official systems have left, African Business magazine and IC Events hosted a critical forum on innovation in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, in November last year.

The Prime Minister of Uganda Amama Mbabaziand and the Minister of Finance Maria Kiwanuka were among those who attended. Many of the solution providers mentioned in this article also attended the forum, which developed into a vigorous exchange of ideas and concepts.

IC Publications will continue to support the enormously valuable work being done by Africa’s pioneering innovators.


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Written by Sherelle Jacobs

Sherelle Jacobs is a British freelance journalist covering sub-Saharan African business and development news. In 2013, she won 'Best Newcomer' at the Diageo Africa Business Reporting Awards. She has written for the Economist, BBC, Financial Times, Guardian, Independent, African Business and African Banker. She speak French, Arabic, Russian and German.

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