Knowledge is Power

4Afrika partnered with N-Frnds to bring the power of digital to subsistence and small-hold farmers in Africa and other emerging markets, via mobile. The platform provides vital information to users, and has nurtured a community of farmers or other sector providers who network with and support each other. It also provides access to financial services for market segments that are traditionally underserved by formal banking and insurance.

Small-hold farming on the continent is significant, with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa estimating that as much as 80% of the food consumed in Africa being produced by this sector. Enhancing this sector is therefore a potential game-changer. According to the United Nations’s Food and Agriculture Group, growth of sub-Saharan Africa’s agriculture is up to 11-times more effective at reducing poverty than other sector growth.

Add to this the fact that the majority of Africa’s small-hold famers are women, and we begin to grasp the potential inherent in transforming this sector – just like the proverbial acorn that grows into a mighty oak.

Irish potato farming has given Mukashimwe Jeanette (from Nyabihu, Rwanda) the ability to not only feed her family but produce a viable and sustainable income. “It has enabled me to pay school fees for my children, pay for health insurance, buy food stuffs for my family and sell some in the market,” she says.

“As a farmer, technology has assisted us with information about the weather, where to find seeds, and their prices,” she continues. And we use N-Frnds to communicate with one another without the use of internet.”

Scalability and stability through cloud

“The agricultural sector in Rwanda has had several developments, led by the government who have ICT in agriculture, and we’ve been part of that.” – Jovani Ntabgoba, N-Frnds.

The N-Frnds platform was born in Rwanda and has since expanded dramatically.

“With Microsoft cloud services, we have been able to offer transformative agricultural solutions that enable us to reach farmers without the need for mobile data,” explains Jovani Ntabgoba, Rwanda country director for N-Frnds.

The N-Frnds’ mobile system” is text/SMS-based. Through this and partnerships with local mobile service providers, N-Frnds users are connected without the need for data but still able to use functionality such as email, chat, and information sources including Wikipedia and MAgri.

Users also feed data into the system. The platform then collates, analyses, and shares data, such as the prices that crops are achieving in various market places, input costs, and information about the varieties of seed. On the other end of the data stream, information can be viewed in aggregate and chart format by policy makers to inform their planning and policy processes.

“We use Microsoft Azure because of its ability to scale,” says Jovani. “Microsoft selected us as a partner when we had zero customers, and we have now grown to 15 million users that have benefitted from this innovation.”

“At the same time, financial services and insurance companies are able to see the bankability of farmers,” says Jovani. And through this, they can offer targeted services that bring these farmers into the formal financial circle, and help them grow and protect their income.

Transparency and ‘track-ability’

Macari Andrew is a milk farmer in Nyagatare, Rwanda. He argues that “this technology helps with transparency, as workers will not lie about the litres of milk taken to the milk zone [of the market].”

They are now able to confirm quantities arriving at market, price achieved, and even information on market demand. From the farmer’s perspective, even those that come from many generations of farmers, this knowledge makes them more productive and informed.