The findings of a new research programme – conducted by Vodafone and Accenture, and intended to measure the impact of mobile communications on the lives and prosperity of farming communities in some of the world's poorest countries – have been announced.
The research, which has been welcomed by Oxfam, assesses the potential benefits of new mobile data services such as weather forecasts, commodity market information and mobile banking for smallholding farmers operating in marginal circumstances.
The global population is expected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050, requiring a 70% increase in food production above 2006 levels. Most of this increased yield will have to be achieved within emerging economies, many of whose farmers operate on a small scale and are highly exposed to crop failure and adverse commodity price movements.
Additionally, many farming communities in emerging markets are economically excluded with little or no access to capital or banking services. They therefore lack the means to trade (beyond basic barter arrangements), borrow to acquire new assets or invest to provide their businesses with sufficient resilience to withstand macro-economic changes.
The report, ‘Connected Agriculture’, concludes that 80% of the potential $138 billion uplift in emerging market farmers' incomes will be derived from the growth of:
- mobile money transfer systems, which provide farmers with the ability to exchange, save and borrow small amounts of capital as well as take out short-term insurance policies;
- mobile information services providing detailed and localised weather forecasts, crop prices and resource management information; and
- helpline services giving real-time guidance on issues such as pest control and the challenges linked to climate change, including water scarcity.
The research also concludes 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. This includes installing simple low-cost wireless data devices within storerooms, delivery vehicles and distribution centres to enable emerging market farmers and food producers to develop detailed logistics and tracking systems. These in turn will allow farmers and producers to optimise the movement of crops and produce from farms to consumers' homes as well as gather detailed field data.
Vodafone Group Chief Executive Officer Vittorio Colao said: “Smallholding farmers in emerging markets are both vulnerable and vital: without a steep increase in their productivity, it is hard to see how future generations will avoid global food shortages. Mobile is already transforming hundreds of millions of people's lives in ways unimaginable only a decade ago. This report now provides vivid evidence of how mobile can make a material difference in tackling the global food gap."
Peter Lacy, Managing Director, Accenture Sustainability Services, Europe, Africa and Latin America said: “Mobile networks are now more widely established in emerging markets than traditional fixed networks and have the potential to transform market-led agricultural practices. We have identified 12 mobile communications opportunities which can drive real efficiency in food and agriculture value chains, increasing farmers’ income by 11% and reducing waste and environmental impact.”
Dame Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive Officer, Oxfam said: “With more than 1.5 billion people worldwide dependent on smallholder agriculture - a group that includes half the world’s undernourished people - mobile telephony could have significant potential to help the poorest farmers towards food and income security. We particularly welcome the focus that this research places on how core business, rather than corporate philanthropy, can operate to have a positive developmental impact.”