Mobile phones increase farmer resilience

A recent article from Uganda reveals that one of the biggest questions facing rural communities around the world is how to build resilience to the increased uncertainty brought about by climate change. Small-scale agriculture is so often based on an unparalleled understanding of the seasons that has been honed over decades through an intimate relationship with the land and the sky. Around the world, farmer communities have a lexicon of terms for each of the year’s many micro-seasons. Based on seasonal signs passed on over the generations, farmers are able to adjust their sowing, cultivation and harvesting behavior and diversify their crop portfolio to secure their livelihoods. These traditional systems, however, are breaking down due to the increased variability of weather patterns characteristic of climate change with devastating consequences for farming communities.
In Uganda’s Nabiswera sub-county, farmers such as Robert Lwanga have been unable to rely on their traditional knowledge to tell when the rains will come due to increased climatic variation. This is particularly important in an area where there are very few irrigation systems in place. Fortunately, mobile connectivity and an innovative meteorological system designed to capture and disseminate climatic information that can be of specific use for farmers appear to provide a ready substitute. The initiative, which is undertaken by Berhane Gebru of FHI 360’s TechLab and Dr Edison Mworozi of Uganda Chartered HealthNet (UCH), is one of many in Africa that are harnessing increased rural connectivity to build resilience to climate change.
The anecdotal evidence on the initiative is impressive. Farmers such as Mr Lwanga are able to plan ahead – with surprising accuracy – and ensure that “The surprises of unexpected rain no longer hit my pocket”. Furthermore, as the initiative also transmits information on market prices via SMS, the bargaining power of farmers has increased and farmers are no longer so easily exploited by middlemen. Perhaps most impressive, however, is that the initiative has made a significant effort to ensure that the use of technology to deliver crucial information does not increase the inequality between those with (charged) mobile phones and those without. This is achieved by disseminating the information through trusted communicators, such as village leaders, school mosques and churches, leading to broad-based improvements in village livelihoods and resilience.
All in all, Mr Gebru and Dr Mworozi’s project appears well-thought through and executed, and is another inspiring story that just shows how ICT, embedded in a well-thought out initiative, can make livelihood-changing contributions to rural communities.


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