We're delighted to share this guest post from FrontlineSMS user Peter Balaba, project manager for Nakaseke Community Telecenter in Uganda.
The MFarmer SMS service, a project of the Nakaseke Community Telecentre in Uganda, helps farmers in rural areas to connect with better markets. It encourages two-way feedback with farmers, buyers and agro-processors, and other service providers. The project is designed to help farmers access agricultural market price information and weather information through their mobile phones.
We are using FrontlineSMS to manage, send and receive SMS. The key advantage of FrontlineSMS is that it can be customised to suit any organisation’s needs. You can adapt it for all sorts of services, and communicate with your community about anything: agricultural market price information, weather, natural calamities, or an alert system.
The project intends to reach 600 farmers by the end of 2013. Last year, 34 Farmers were trained in the application of the service - one of them was Haji Siraje Muwanga (pictured left). Muwanga lives in Kiziba, in Nakaseke District and relies predominantly on farming to support his family. He grows bananas, maize, beans and coffee. He also rears cattle and keeps poultry to supplement his income and household food requirements. Some of the challenges he has encountered in the past include poor storage facilities and poor prices for his produce, especially during the most productive parts of the harvest.
He says, “Our major challenge is that most farmers sell to middlemen who buy our produce at low prices. In most cases we don’t know if they are buying cheaply, which is why we fall prey to them!”
The Mfarmer SMS service has helped Muwanga to link up directly with buyers. He once received a message from the Telecentre showing that someone was looking for beans. As he says, 'last season I planted 300 kilograms of beans, which I had bought for Uganda shillings 800 per kilo costing me Shillings 240,000 (about $96 US), and I harvested 2800kg.' After responding to the message, the buyer bought 2500kg of beans at 1300/= per kilo; thus earning 3,250,000/ (USD1300). He will keep 300 kg of the total crop for planting next season.
Muwanga calls the opportunity 'a god-send' - because of MFarmer, he has managed to send his three children back to school. Two are taking vocational training courses in Computer Repair and Maintenance and Motor Engineering, and the youngest completed his O’Levels (secondary level education) in 2012.
As a farmer, Muwanga says he's happy because most farmers need agricultural price information, especially about maize, beans and coffee. He is optimistic that this service will benefit his fellow farmers and urges them to seize such opportunities.
The project was supported by United Nations Economic Commission for Africa within the framework of resolutions made during the African Knowledge Network workshop held on 22-23 November, 2011 at UNECA, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is coordinated by Mr. Balaba Peter of Nakaseke Telecentre who has been contracted by ECA for a short dedicated period of time.
The resolutions recognized that the growth and penetration of ICTs, particularly mobile phones in Africa, is attracting both solution providers and development actors in the development of community-based applications in supporting areas ranging from financial services and government service delivery to support the socio-economic sectors in agriculture, health, education and commerce, etc.
Hence, there was a need for Telecentres to adopt new and crosscutting applications to serve their communities better and to ensure sustainability. The Mfarmer SMS project at Nakaseke has been stimulated by the fact that mobile phone penetration within the area, as in many other African villages, is high and most households have access to mobile phones.