Airtel reckons mobile phones can ply great way to alert farmers

Leading integrated telco Airtel Kenya has stepped to the fore deploying mobile phones to provide a great new opportunity for delivering agriculture-related info to farmers in Kenya, a scheme it expects would serve an estimated 250,000 small-scale farmers.

The company today announced a partnership with GSMA Development Fund to start a project focused on supplying the small-scale farmers in Kenya with mobile-based agricultural information services.

This comes even as farmers in Kenya continue to shore up efforts to improve productivity and profitability using up-to-date technical information.

The project tagged ‘Sauti ya Mkulima’ (Swahili for voice of the farmer), Airtel says will offer the farmers pertinent agriculture-related info, advice and research for better decision-making purposes.

Last year, thousands of needless deaths occurred in famine stricken parts of Kenya according to two British aid organizations Oxfam and Save the Children. Between 50,000 and 100,000 people died in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

According to Oxfam and Save the Children, it took more than six months for aid agencies — including the Kenyan governments, donors, the United Nations and NGOs — to act on warnings of imminent famine, a trend Airtel seeks to alter by reaching the farmers through its new partnership with GSMA.

The information will also ensure increased productivity and incomes, the company says.

It will in addition ensure a farmer community is created within which peers can share experiences and information on events, social gatherings and job vacancies.

Airtel Kenya’s managing director Shivan Bhargava said the company recognizes that telecommunications solutions have the potential to influence transformation of societies.

“This initiative is a solid testament to what partnerships that harness relevant consumer needs can achieve in overcoming daily challenges,” he explained.

The project will provide the small-scale farmers access to quality and timely information on agriculture-related activities, he said.

Bhargava added that gaining access to this information would be greatly beneficial to the farmers whose livelihoods are dependent on their yield.

“The information will allow them to make better informed decisions that will result in improved productivity,” he noted.

Part of the joint venture, the GSMA mFarmer initiative – funded by USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – has awarded Airtel USD 400,000 to be used towards the ‘Sauti ya Mkulima’ project.

The initiative will facilitate rapid scaling of the use of mobile phone networks to provide farmers in developing countries with agricultural information.

Airtel said the funds would be used to develop a reliable database of content with the help of partners such as the Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International (CABI), an inter-governmental not-for-profit organization and radio-based information provider Kilimo Media, as well as to set up the technological capabilities to execute the project with the help of first-rate technology service providers.

At the outset however, the ‘Sauti ya Mkulima’ project will target the Kenyan farmers engaged in food-crops including maize, beans, bananas, mango and tomatoes.

Airtel said additional infro would be embedded into the system on a quarterly basis. It plans to develop further the model it would replicate across its 17 operations in the continent. In Kenya, Airtel offers 2G, 3G mobile services. Bharti Airtel had over 262 million customers across its operations at the end of July 2012.

GSMA Development Fund has since its creation partnered with some “35 mobile operators, rolling out 53 services, impacting tens of millions of people across 30 countries.”

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