Cellphones help Tanzanian farmers sharpen their game

21Aug 2021
By Guardian Reporter
Morogoro
The Guardian
Cellphones help Tanzanian farmers sharpen their game

​​​​​​​While spreading fertiliser, Sebastian Bukeke, 47, a small-time farmer in the village of Kiroka in Tanzania’s Morogoro region, is also using his cellphone to learn about the weather. He has been able to boost his maize farming skills by using timely advice from experts on his cellphone.

Although most of the farmers holding small lands in the East African country known for its vast wilderness areas are illiterate, their newfound love with cellphones to access the modern and timely farm knowledge has helped them to increase productivity and fetch good prices.

Like Bukeke, many farmers in the countryside are hooked on cellphones to seek information about crop yields, weather forecasts, and markets.

Maulid Ali, a farmer from the village of Kiromo in Morogoro, said he uses a smartphone app to measure and analyze soil data such as temperature, nutrients, and vegetative health to help him use the right fertilizer and water.

“It's easy to use, and luckily all the information is in Swahili,” he said.

Researchers at the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) are constantly developing content relating to information on seeds, diseases, climate, and markets and instantly transmitting it to farmers on their hand-held gadgets.

“Lack of timely agricultural information is a big problem that many farmers face. We hope that this initiative will help to solve that problem,” said Aswile Godwin, a researcher at the university.

He said the idea was to harness the power of digital technology to assist agricultural extension officers to disseminate information to farmers.

“With cellphones now in the hands of farmers, it has become easy to avoid the barriers and transportation,” said Godwin.

Putting knowledge in people’s hands

Farmers in Tanzania had been routinely burning their fields to kill weeds, slugs, and pests, which often polluted the air and removed essential nutrients from the soil.

Using the information provided by experts on his cellphone, Bukeke switched to dragging patches of soil from the razed stalks, mixing it with cow dung to create elevated beds for growing beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and vegetables.

“I get very useful information on my phone which helps me to develop these skills, “he said.

On a cloudy morning, John Kisesa, a farmer in Ilula, displayed a text message he got from SUA with farming tips and real-time weather information.

“When I get this information, I usually share it with my friends just to help them catch up,” he said

Agriculture is the backbone of Tanzania’s economy. The sector accounts for more than one-quarter of gross domestic product (GDP), contributing 85 percent of exports, and employs about 80 percent of the workforce.

While agricultural experts are still learning the impact of the digitized farming system for productivity and improved livelihoods, the trend is promising, as technology is attracting more people to work as farmers.