Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector has, over the past few years, become more dynamic in ways that demand equally dynamic ways of sharing information and knowledge. In addition to conventional media comprising radio, television, newspapers and agriculture shows, mobile technology has tried to plug information sharing loopholes in the form of voice, short message service (sms) and social media like Whatsapp. However, most of these channels seem to have reached their limits with agriculture content remaining disintegrated in farmer organisations, NGOs, government departments and, among farming communities themselves. The prevalence of diverse sources of inadequate agriculture content has translated into poor decision-making by agriculture stakeholders. Farmers have been the most affected by this information asymmetry as they have found it difficult to move from data to good agriculture decisions. As result many answers have remained partial.
It is against this background that eMKambo is launching an agricultural mobile application to complement its short message service, call centre and face to face knowledge sharing through knowledge centres and information instigators. Known as eMKambo Nest, (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.emkambo1.emkambonest&hl=en ), the mobile application is a software and mechanism for availing agriculture information and knowledge (content) through mobile phones. It is no longer a secret that almost every farmer, trader or transporter now has a mobile phone. What is lacking is appropriate decision-making information & knowledge (content) on time. The mainstream media will also benefit from the application as a source of well filtered information.
Focusing on market-driven agriculture, the mobile application is set to provide real-time agriculture information and updates. Rather than relying on second hand or third hand information on what is happening in agriculture markets, a farmer in Bubi or Honde Valley can receive and send information as things happen. Now that there is unlimited internet connection (data bundles) through mobile network operators, it is ideal for farmers, traders and other value chain actors to cheaply receive and send real time agriculture content on their mobile phones from wherever they are located.
Through the mobile application, agriculture content will be trendy, enabling farmers to compare and contrast information by week, month and year. The application can also provide unlimited text, images and videos, enabling agriculture value chain actors to surmount the limitations of short message services (160 characters). As a service-oriented architecture and communication protocol, the application enables data to flow fluidly while remaining fresh. Farmers don’t have to stop whatever they are doing for fear of missing the news because the value-added news is always right there in their mobile phones.
The application is much superior to social media channels like Whatsapp where it’s difficult to differentiate serious information from playful gossip. Besides, Whatsapp does not share co-knowledge but a string of conversations that are sometimes difficult for farmers and traders to filter into useful business intelligence. From eMKambo experiences, information from smallholder farmers and agriculture markets comes in drips and drapes, requiring someone to aggregate it into business intelligence. This application builds on eMKambo’s capacity to mobilise agriculture content from disparate sources into coherent agriculture knowledge. Unlike social media platforms like Whatsapp where a few people dominate conversations and influence outcomes, the mobile application will tap into individuals’ emotional intelligence and power to reflect and make sense quietly before sharing information as needed.
Through the application farmers or traders pull and push information related to their lines of business. They also try to find people with the same interest with whom they can share and deepen information rather than remaining at general information level. Farmers are no longer content with news but decision-making intelligence that can’t be shared through short message service or other forms of conventional media. The app will evolve into a one-stop platform where farmers get advisory services like budgets, news, market signals/trends as well as making inquiries and contributions. Frequent communication on matters of interest through the application will enhance relationships and trust building among agriculture value chain actors.
The fluid nature and velocity of transactions within agriculture markets now requires technology that connects all nodes within the shortest period – connecting farmers, traders, transporters and consumers quickly. For farmers, decisions to take commodities to the market, which market, when and to whom will be easier to make. By consolidating content, the application will also influence agricultural extension models which are currently one directional.