Report Points to Potential Impact of Mobile Technology on Farmers in Tackling Global Food Gap
October 13, 2011 | Deanna Krinn
‘Connected Agriculture,’ the title of a recent report by Vodafone and Accenture seeks to highlight the growing importance of farmers’ access to mobile communication in isolated areas of some of the world’s poorest countries.
The report found that making mobile data services such as weather forecasts, commodity market information and mobile banking available to farmers in the developing world could potentially increase world farmers’ wages by an additional $138 billion by 2020. Such technology is especially important to farmers in these areas as they often lack the tools necessary to obtain accurate weather information for planting and harvesting, do not have access to information that would enable them to keep up-to-date with the most recent farming techniques, and are often confronted with the challenge of having to traveling to and from larger urban areas in order to complete simple banking transactions like obtaining micro-loans.
“Mobile is already transforming hundreds of millions of people’s lives in ways unimaginable only a decade ago,” said Vittorio Colao, group chief executive officer of Vodafone, a major mobile phone conglomerate. “This report now provides vivid evidence of how mobile can make a material difference in tackling the global food gap.”
The research comes at a time when many are realizing the dire circumstances of the future of the world’s population and the future of its food supply. Estimates indicate that by 2050, population will number more than 9 billion, which will require a 70 percent increase from the amount of food produced in 2006. A majority of this food will likely come from farms in emerging economies, many of which are located in areas susceptible to crop failure and that are affected by less-than-favorable monetary situations.
The report outlines 12 mobile service opportunities modeled across 26 countries in Africa, India, Australia, Europe and the Middle East. The 12 opportunities deliver benefits ranging from socioeconomic to environmental, and include four categories:
- Mobile financial services: A mobile payment system, micro-insurance system, and micro-lending platform to assist with farmers’ financial needs
- Mobile information services: Mobile information platform and farmer helpline to assist with the dissemination of new information in areas where it previously would have taken much longer to teach new methods of farming;
- Supply chain and data services: Smart logistics, a traceability and tracking system, and mobile management of supplier and distribution networks to optimize supply chain management and delivery efficiency;
- Mobile agricultural trading services: An agricultural trading, tendering and bartering platform to enhance the link between commodity exchanges, traders, buyers and sellers of agricultural produce
The study states that each category would require between 133 and 240 million mobile connections, but each would also have a positive impact on incomes of between $35 and $51 billion. For example, providing mobile financial services would require 240 million mobile connections but could lift incomes by $50 billion, the report says.
It also states that by using mobile communications technology to improve data visibility for supply chain efficiency, farmers could greatly reduce food waste and prevent more than 2.1 Megatons of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere. According to the report, this carbon savings could be accomplished through the following methods:
- Smart logistics: using mobile devices to collect data on the location, speed and route of food distribution trucks, helping distributors improve fleet management
- Traceability and tracking system: using mobile to record movements of items through the agricultural supply chain, from farms to shops
- Mobile management of supplier networks: agricultural field agents visiting farms can use mobile phones to record data on farm conditions and expected yields
- Mobile management of distribution networks: retailers can use mobile phones to keep records of sales of agricultural inputs like seeds, fertiliser and chemicals.
The study also assumes that “a further uplift in agricultural incomes will emerge as a consequence of the use of advanced mobile communications technology in food production and distribution,” or installation of wireless data devices that could track shipments and optimize their logistics. This would work to further decrease food waste and improve farmers’ knowledge of crop demand, and makes up 20 percent of the $138 billion profit gains estimated by researchers.