Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Can Tech Solve African Agriculture's Four Big Problems?

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, April 15 2013

Screengrab from Kilimo Salama promotional video.

A recent BBC article highlighted three of the tech-heavy startups trying to change the game in Africa's agriculture sector, including a franchise that gives farmers access to higher quality products, a crop insurance scheme that makes it easier for farmers to get credit, and an SMS service through which farmers can check market prices and coordinate with other farmers to buy supplies in bulk. As observed in the article, these tech solutions try to leapfrog over basic infrastructure problems – like bad roads and inefficient communications. Considering the fact that 80 percent of the arable land in Africa is not being used, tech has an awful lot to make up for.

Technology directly contributes about 7 percent to Africa's GDP, higher than the worldwide average. A report by the World Bank and the African Development Bank in December 2012 explains that is because mobile phones provide access to services that are easily available in traditional, non-tech forms in the developed world, such as financial services, newspapers and entertainment. The same report identifies four sectors in which technology can make up for other infrastructure failings: market information, agriculture insurance, irrigation efficiency and traceability.

The BBC mentions M-Farm, a SMS program previously covered by techPresident through which farmers can check market prices and even coordinate with other farmers in order to buy supplies in bulk. There is also the mobile information service Esoko, developed by Ghana-based BusyLab. Weekly advisory services from Esoko include market prices, weather, news and tips.

The crop insurance scheme Kilimo Salama, “safe farming” in Swahili, is spreading across Kenya and Rwanda. A Christian Science Monitor article reports they just signed on their 100,000th policyholder. One farmer told the Monitor he signed up after an earlier drought destroyed an entire year of crops and left him nearly broke: “When I lost part of my crop to drought in 2011, I was compensated, which meant I was still able to pay school fees, buy seeds for a new crop, and keep food on the table for my family. . . It has given me peace of mind, so I invest without fear of losing everything to risks that are beyond my control.”

Kilimo Salama works in part because the farmer pays only a small premium, a percentage of what is spent on seeds. However, other useful technologies like solar-powered irrigation systems are expensive investments, and 380,000 shillings ($4,500 dollars) can be cost-prohibitive to smallholder farmers.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

More