Scientific research and technological improvements have contributed to the development of Ugandan agronomy over the years, with the introduction of innovative methods that combine sustainability and efficiency for smallholder farmers. However, the poorest, most food-insecure areas, which would benefit most from agricultural development, are also the hardest to reach. For that reason, agricultural extension officers play a fundamental role as middlemen, translating scientific findings into local languages and assisting the farmers in applying them in practice.
Spreading important agronomical information rapidly and efficiently is quite challenging in Uganda, where the number of extension officers cannot meet the growing demand from farmers who often need immediate assistance. The ratio of extension worker to farmers is 1:24,000, making it very hard for smallholder farmers to access real-time extension services. Thanks to innovations in information technology, mobile and web-based platforms are proving to be a huge help. Since most farming communities in the country don’t have access to the internet, mobile-based assistance is critical. Currently more than 75 percent of farmers in Uganda can access the mobile phone based extension services.
The Slow Food network in Uganda has been working to apply these new technologies in practice through the use of web-based mobile assistance services designed for farmers, in collaboration with Agricultural Innovation Systems Brokerage (AGINSBA). AGINSBA enables farmers to exchange information with extension officers in their local languages through m-Omulimisa, a web-based platform that works with mobile text messaging. The platform automatically creates a Q&A space as farmers use their mobile phones to ask questions in their local languages and receive instant feedback from local extension officers through text messages. This platform makes communication incredibly easy, saving time and effort for both parties.
In partnership with AGINSBA, Slow Food Uganda took the initiative to develop the m-Omulisima platform, which was launched in May 2016. Almost a year on, the number of users is continuing to see steady growth, confirming the high demand from farmers. Daniel Ninsiima, the developer, sees a continent-wide future for the app: “We have already gained great traction on the Ugandan scene with over 15,000 registered farmers and more organizations are knocking on our doors seeking to partner with us to enhance their extension services. And yes, we can spread to other countries if we create the right connections with local telecom companies.”
The users of the service mostly ask about pest and drought management as well as the post-harvest reduction of food waste and joining a Slow Food convivium. The system, managed by the Slow Food Youth Network Uganda and AGINSBA team, is promoted through field visits and seminars as well as other training workshops open to all the Slow Food network.
Another benefit of the platform is its high adaptability to multilingual Uganda, as it can identify the language of the received messages and classify the questions by language groups. Ninsiima adds that the project seeks to partner with other organizations with rural community networks: “Slow Food has over time built a great network in Uganda through their various programs and leveraging this network to recruit more farmers and provide them with the information they need has given us immeasurable mileage. However, more needs to be done by Slow Food to respond to farmer questions that come through the platform in a timely manner.”
Of course more needs to be done, and progress is being made. This is just the beginning, the seed of an innovative new way to connect farmers and agronomists around the world.
Photos: m-Omulisima, New Vision