Mercy Corps’ Agri-Fin Mobile program, works with partners to build sustainable models, wherein farm and crop management tools and financial services are "bundled" in affordable, platforms on mobile phone channels to promote mass uptake commercially. In Zimbabwe Mercy Corps in partnership with private and public players developed a mAgri platform. In October 2013, the Ecofarmer service was lanched in Zimbabwe. The advisory service disseminates farming tips and market prices to smallholder farmers through the mobile phone. Ecofarmer additionally provides the smallholder farmer access to weather index insurance cover for the agriculture season.
Initial assessments of the Ecofarmer service have revealed two interesting ways that farmers have been impacted by the mAgri advisory service. The service has positively impacted farming practices of smallholder farmers and has contributed to their accelerated behavior change. The advisory service has shared what farmers have considered new information and also old information that reminded smallholder farmers of techniques they had been taught thereby reinforcing their value. Additionally, the advisory services have been noted to trigger immediate responsive action particularly by women. The opportunity to access timely and relevant information has provided a foundation for the smallholder farmers to improve their livelihoods.
Mrs Marimo is a smallholder farmer in the Murehwa district in Mashonaland East province. She registered for Ecofarmer on the launch in October 2013 and has been receiving information from Ecofarmer since then. The information on the platform has been valuable to her. Last season Mrs Marimo received a number of farming tips on the maize crop. Although some messages required additional information for her to be able to act on there were specific tips that she clearly has found useful and have impacted on the way she farms.
While her crop grew as she waited patiently for harvest time, she received a message that changed her view on her farming practices. The message advised her to continuously check on her crop and keep weeding as weeds can actually affect the quality of her crop. This triggered her to immediately weed her field and continuously keep an eye on her crop at every stage of the crop cycle. She now acknowledges that the farming tips have changed her mindset on the concept of farming and that her crop requires close monitoring in order to realize an improvement in her crop productivity. The service has triggered a behavior change among smallholder farmers and shows evidence that there is potential to improve productivity.
Access to the farming tips has also shown that it can impact on the quality of yield and output. In Mashonaland East some farmers in Hwedza noted that they received a message that changed the quality of their yield. The farming tip recommended that farmers soak their maize seeds before planting them as this would improve the germination process. For some of the farmers this was not necessarily new but it reminded them of good farming practices they had been taught. The farmers reported that when they actually soaked the seeds they indeed germinated faster than the usual as per the received message. This improved their yield for the season and they hope to continue using this practice for the coming seasons.
The farming tips have triggered new thinking about farming, a change in farming behavior of smallholder farmers now that there is evidence that yields will improve and there is potential to increase incomes. The advisory service is adding value to farmers by sharing with them good farming practices. This use of technology to disseminate agriculture information can result in accelerated behavior change and adoption of good farming practices for long term impact on smallholder farmer productivity and incomes.
Ecofarmer is a mAgri service in Zimbabwe developed by Econet Wireless in partnership with Mercy Corps’ Agri-Fin Mobile program and other public sector partners.For more information please visit www.mercycorps.org