Text messaging keeps farmers connected across borders - FreshFruitPortal.com

Text messaging keeps farmers connected across borders

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Text messaging keeps farmers connected across borders

Say a small-scale coffee farmer in Kenya has encountered a new pest or is simplying looking to improve crop productivity but doesn't have much access to outside information.WeFarm Peru Pilot

This is where the WeFarm initiative, run through the Cafedirect Producers' Foundation, hopes to step in with peer-to-peer communication run through SMS text messaging.

Although many farmers in Africa and Latin America may not have access to the internet, program manager Kenny Ewan explained that most can access mobile phones. Through the WeFarm system, these farmers can use their cell phones to connect to a global network and wealth of agricultural knowledge.

"Maybe a farmer in Kenya wants to plant a pine tree but doesn’t know which is the best soil type, so he sends, ‘What’s the best soil type for pine trees?’ as an SMS message to WeFarm," Ewan explained to www.freshfruitportal.com.

"Our WeFarm person picks up that message and then will automatically send it out to a bunch of other farmers who speak English. We’re hoping to get that system smarter and smarter as time goes on so the system recognizes people with expertise in soil types or pine trees and sends it to them."

The program has already connected farmers in Kenya, Peru and Tanzania, and by December, it hopes to connect an even greater number through a more advanced, updated computer system.

WeFarm pilot2"We piloted the program for the first time in Kenya and farmers really loved it. The idea was that they could share questions and ideas, knowledge through sending an SMS message. Then we would distribute that through the people and try to source knowledge," Ewan said.

"A year ago now we did a final pilot in Peru. We already have someone in Tanzania and a language facility person. So the idea is that language won’t be a barrier for someone in Peru to share their knowledge with a coffee farmer in Tanzania. Our system now is available is Swahili, English and Spanish."

For the language aspect, WeFarm also seeks to integrate a global network and crowdsource accessibility of information. A pilot system is currently underway through funding by the Knight Foundation to improve technological access.

"We designed a translation community and that’s got a web interface or a smart phone app. The idea is that maybe a language student or an expat can take a few minutes out of their day on the bus on the way to work in the morning to translate something on their phone and get involved in the project," he said.

The smart phone app adds an extra community element to the program by integrating any phone user willing and capable of doing a quick translation. In turn, this phone conversation is made available for users to read online.

"It’s also exists on the internet. So even if the conversation is between a farmer in Mexico and a farmer in Kenya via SMS, a third party in Denmark can get involved in that conversation via the website," Ewan said.

With about 300 farmers currently connected to the system - and plans to connect many more - WeFarm already brags several success stories of cross-continental collaboration.

"There’s a farmer called Jacob Gituma in Kenya. He had a conversation with someone in Peru about rabbit keeping, which he had heard about as a form of some extra income on the farm but didn’t know where to start. He got information through WeFarm to get started and made some money through that," Ewan said.

As Ewan explained, Gituma's success story captures the basic idea of WeFarm and Cafédirect: to provide power to the producers.

"One of the ideas of the foundation is that it is both owned and driven by the farmers themselves. We work from a bottom-up way. So the whole exercise has gone with them and their priorities, things that they wanted to see the project focus on and one of them was communication," he said.

"We are trying to encourage communication between farmers and people that don’t necessarily have great resources."

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