The Best Farming Tool May Just Be a Cellphone

African farmers are finding that mobile connectivity can make or break their harvests.
A university in Uganda is designing a cellphone to address the needs of farmers and urban residents alike. (Photo: Simon Rawles/Getty Images)
Feb 3, 2013· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

In the U.S., cellphones have become our primary means of communication, so much so they’re practically an extension of our limbs. But for African farmers, these phones are quickly becoming more than a means of idle chatter—they’re serving as facilitators of social and economic justice.

FastCompany reports that cellphones are giving farmers in African countries remote access to critical banking services that were previously unavailable to them. The ability to pay their bills, move money and make insurance adjustments empowers these farmers with a new way to keep their finances stabilized—despite being miles from any financial institution.

But the phones are accomplishing more than administrative duties. According to CNN, they’re also allowing rural residents to easily broker deals, and share weather information and market prices with each other. With a simple text, a farmer can find out the prices of specific crops in markets that are thousands of miles away, and in turn he can adjust his own harvest in anticipation of those market conditions. It’s this newfound ability to plan and adjust their output that’s making it possible for farmers to generate higher incomes.

And as mobile phones are becoming more popular among the rural residents of the continent, apps are being tailored for their needs as well. “iCow” is one of those. It’s an SMS and voice service that allows dairy farmers to track their cows’ gestation periods while providing tips on breeding and nutrition.

While cellphone technology is currently imported, researchers at Makerere University in Uganda are in the process of making the first-ever cellphone designed and manufactured locally—with features that will benefit both urban and farming residents.

Named the Pearl, the phone is expected to be released in June and will come with GPS tracking, data analysis and biometric security—meaning it will utilize voice recognition or thumb print reading as a security device, protecting the owner’s valuable data from getting into the wrong hands. Especially helpful for the country’s farmers, the device will include a “mobile weather station,” integrating temperature and humidity sensors to reveal different weather patterns at any given location.

With connectivity comes economic power; cut citizens off from centers of commerce, or from sharing information with one another, and their ability to earn a living will always remain limited. But give them access and they can not only support themselves, but they can also empower others to do the same.

Can you see how cellphone access has increased your own ability to earn a higher income? Let us know in the Comments.