Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

SP mobile farmer irri

A farmer uses his mobile phone to relay messages of a good planting season. (Photo: IRRI.)

By Ernie Hu

For farmers who lack convenient, reliable access to in-person or Internet-based services, mobile is giving them the power to do everything from staying connected to increasing crop production.

Such mobile access is becoming especially important in countries like China that have vast rural populations and whose economic stability is directly linked to investments in agriculture. Recent reports show that approximately 596 million tons of crops will be needed to feed China’s population, which is predicted to reach 1.4 billion by 2023.

According to the China Ministry of Agriculture, the country has continued to increase grain harvests, such as wheat and rice, each year for the past decade. In fact, China’s agricultural productivity has more than doubled since 1990, supporting China’s ability to produce food for 20 percent of the world’s population.

Such dramatic growth has challenged farmers across the continent, but technologies like mobile are beginning to make a difference.

In 2012, for example, potato farmers in Inner Mongolia had 600 million kilos of unsold potatoes, which would have rotted away in days. With a platform that utilizes SMS messages to connect farming communities, they found more than 278 buyers in places ranging from as far away as Shaanxi (~1,000 km), to Heilongjiang, (~1,700 km). The service also alerts farmers via text to opportunities to hire laborers and offer their own services.

In addition to improving sales and distribution, mobile is helping more farmers to communicate with suppliers of seed, fertilizer and equipment. Farmers can place orders, track deliveries and make adjustments quickly based on shifts in weather forecasts to limit disruptions to farm operations and production.

For example, every two months, farmers in the Chinese Northern province of Shandong meet with a sales person from Sinofert Holdings who uses a mobile device to show them different kinds of fertilizers, check product pricing and place orders instantly. The entire purchasing process can be completed in 10 minutes and the products are delivered in an average of 10 days, versus a month or more.

In India, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) developed a system that uses mobile to help farmers prepare for severe weather, like monsoons. The IMD delivers information via text that includes expected temperatures, rainfall and humidity to help farmers make decisions about when to plant, fertilize and harvest crops.

Ernie Hu, Vice President, Software Group, IBM Greater China Group

Ernie Hu, Vice President, Software Group, IBM Greater China Group

For its part, the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), an association of mobile operators and associated companies, launched an mAgri program designed to bring together mobile operators, agricultural organizations and the development community to improve the livelihoods of “smallholder” farmers by using mobile to increase their access to information, financial services and supply chain solutions.

According to the GSMA, while mobile phone penetration in the developing world now exceeds 70 percent, the organization predicts that future demand will come from currently ‘unconnected’ populations in developing countries, particularly those in rural areas. As the mobile adoption continues in these areas, the spread of information will enable ever more efficient farming and sustainability.

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