Agricultural Product Seller’s Mobile Phone Use: Key Points
Mobile phones beneficial for:
- fielding calls and requests from customers
- finding about prices for farming inputs from suppliers
- negotiating prices with farmers
Agricultural extension services offer a model for disseminating information to farmers, generally through agricultural extension officers who are civil servants. Such services however are costly and limited in reach. In their absence, farming advice and support often come through local vendors of farming inputs. The hope that farmers will be willing to pay for pure information services has been contradicted by recent evaluations.
Ojore sells agricultural products. In his shop we observed pesticides, herbicides, and material for keeping grain preserved while it is being stored. He sells seeds too, but only during the planting season. He notes that people mainly come to buy tomato pesticides and herbicides. Some common problems he sees with crops include tomato blight and Irish potato blight. This is especially a problem during the rainy season. Maize also gets pests that attack it during the dry season and cabbage has this problem.
Some of the farmers he sells to buy on credit and pay them back when they harvest. He doesn’t, however, take crops as payment.
He got his training at the Bukalasa Agricultural Training College. He got a certificate and partnered with a friend to start up this business 14 years ago. He was trained to help people grow crops in the right way; to be able to tell by looking at the plants problems they are having. He tells them what should be used on the plants. He also offers advice about when to plant and when not to plant. We asked if he goes out to the farms. He says it is not his role to do what the agricultural extension officers do and go out to the farms, so mostly he stays in the shop. He has a relationship with the agricultural extension officers. They advise farmers to come and get things from his shop. How often does he see the agricultural extension officers? They are in contact when they need each other. The last time he saw the extension officers was in September when the season was beginning.
We ask him specifically about ‘modern agricultural’ techniques and specifically about the use of improved seeds. He asserts that it is better than the traditional way of keeping part of the harvest as seed. He encourages people to use improved seeds. They do face some challenges in doing so however. By the time it comes to the season for planting, the farmers don’t have money to buy the improved seeds.
As far as yields, with maize – the improved hybrid Zimbabwe seeds cost 4000/kilo, long five 2500/kilo, traditional 200/kilo. Big farmers take 50 kilos, but most take 10-20 kilos. In 1 acre you will use 20 kilos of seed and harvest 40 bags of maize. Each bag is 120 kilos. Traditional seeds, in 1 acre, you plant 20 kilos of seed and get 10 bags of maize.
He has a mobile phone which he acquired to make work easier. He bought it so he could make contact with the people in his business. Customers call him to find out if he has the treatments they are looking for. If he doesn’t have that treatment in stock he can call the suppliers, find out the price and then call back the farmers to negotiate the price.
He keeps his knowledge of agriculture up to date by listening to agricultural programs on the radio. He loves listening to these programs. He also reviews his books from school from time to time. Since he started, agricultural practices have been forced to change due to changing weather patterns. Seasonal rainfall patterns have changed and affected farming. Farmers typically rely on weather forecasts broadcast on the radio.
He has his own farm where he has 6 cows and 8 pigs. Most of the time he’s here at the shop, but his family grows food for consumption. They have 4 acres and they use improved seeds on the land so that they can get big yields. He thinks the improved seeds work. He tries to advise other farmers to use the improved seeds. Sometimes they send some of the food they grow and harvest to their parents. They also plant maize as a cash crop. He owns the 4 acres he farms which he inherited from his father.
Further Reading (mobile phones as tools for agricultural extension):
Parikh, T. S., Patel, N., & Schwartzman, Y. (2007). A Survey of Information Systems Reaching Small Producers in Global Agricultural Value Chains. Information and Communication Technologies and Development. Bangalore, India.
Patel, N., Savani, K., Dave, P., & Klemmer, S. R. (2012). Power to the Peers : Authority of Source Effects for a Voice-based Agricultural Information Service in Rural India. Information and Communication Technologies and Development (pp. 169-178). Atlanta, GA.