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Mobile access could boost farm yields

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The introduction of six simple mobile services designed to help small-scale farmers in emerging markets could boost the farm gate incomes of 70-million Indian farmers by $9-billion in 2020.
This is one of the findings from Vodafone’s Connected Farming in India report which is based on research commissioned from Accenture Strategy with support from the Vodafone Foundation. It found that the mobile services could enhance earnings by an average of $128 a year for almost two-thirds of Indian farmers, achieving a material positive impact in communities where the average farming household lives on less than $4 a day and many farmers struggle to feed and educate their families.

India is one of the world’s largest food producers with more than 200-million people currently estimated to work in agriculture, around 100-million of them farmers and the remainder working as agricultural labourers. In India, around 62% of farmers own less than one hectare of land, significantly increasing their exposure to the effects of crop failure, pests, disease and volatile market pricing.

Vodafone and Accenture Strategy have identified six mobile services with the potential to transform Indian farmers’ lives and livelihoods:

* Agricultural information services providing early warning of weather events, information on the best times to harvest and advice on crop techniques to enhance yields. These services could increase an estimated 60-million Indian farmers’ annual incomes by an average of $89 a year in 2020.

* Receipt services to provide greater transparency in daily commodity supply chains, allowing farmers to raise their incomes by improving efficiency and eliminating fraud.

* Payments and loans enabling farmers to access simple and secure financial products and services using mobile money payment systems such as Vodafone’s M-Pesa, launched in India in April 2013. Access to highly cost-effective micro-finance and quick and transparent electronic payment systems could provide an annual benefit of $690 for some farmers in 2020, representing a 39% increase in their average farming income.

* Field audit enabling auditors monitoring quality, sustainability and certification requirements to move away from paper records and adopt instead electronic reporting via tablets and mobile data, greatly enhancing efficiency and potentially increasing annual average income by $612 for some farmers.

* Local supply chain enabling small-scale producers to transact with local co-operatives through simple but robust information services and mobile money systems. These could boost some farmers’ annual incomes by $271 in 2020; a 50% increase on current farming incomes.

* Smartphone-enabled services to provide deeper functionality and richer sources of information than is possible using basic SMS and voicemail services. While smartphone penetration is currently low in rural areas in emerging market economies, average device prices continue to fall year-on-year. Advanced and affordable mobile services could lead to an increase in average annual farming incomes of $675 for more than four million farmers in 2020.
Vodafone also announced that it will launch its Farmers’ Club initiative in four additional emerging market countries – India, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania – over the coming year.

The Vodafone Farmers’ Club is a social business model which offers a range of mobile services to help farmers boost productivity. It was first launched by Vodafone in Turkey in 2009; around 25% of the Turkish population work in agriculture and the Farmers’ Club programme has benefitted 1,2-million farmers, helping them to enhance crop yields and increase farm gate incomes.

Specific Farmers’ Club services offered in each country will vary but will include information services, virtual marketplaces in which farmers can sell their produce and mobile money financial services and products. Vodafone will also develop a variant of the Farmers’ Club concept for farmers in New Zealand, a country with an advanced agricultural industry. Vodafone New Zealand is harnessing the strength of its extensive rural network to connect farms, agribusinesses and rural communities, helping to drive productivity, profitability and innovation.

Vodafone Group regional chief executive for the Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific region Serpil Timuray, comments: “One-third of humanity relies on food grown by 500-million smallholder farmers with less than two hectares of land. Mobile has a critically important role to play in increasing agricultural resilience and enhancing quality of life for some of the poorest people on earth. Our experience in Turkey has demonstrated how mobile services can transform farmers’ ability to increase crop yields, improve efficiency and grow farm gate incomes.

“As the global population continues to expand, farmers have an urgent need to produce ever-increasing amounts of food without destroying habitats or depleting resources in a way which is unsustainable. Smart and forward-looking initiatives such as the Vodafone Farmers’ Club concept can make a real difference in addressing the global challenge of food production and security.”