Developing agro-pastoral growth through mobile technology

Tanzania’s development objectives, outlined in the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty II, include achieving competitiveness, inclusive growth and poverty reduction. The Tanzanian government intends to achieve these objectives, by growing the agricultural sector. Farmers and smallholders in Tanzania face numerous structural challenges such as weak markets and inconsistent trade policies which result in low prices for farmers. These gaps will need to be strengthened to enable agro-pastoral growth.

Alumna Neema Urassa currently works for the Tanzania Livestock Research Institute (TALIRI) as a research officer. In 2016 she completed a short course in Increasing Development Impact of Agricultural Research delivered in Nairobi by the University of Sydney and the University of Nairobi. Her exposure to global studies, reflecting the impact that social networking (social structures with actors) enhanced by cell phone usage, had on access to crops and fish marketing led her to discover the value that mobile technology plays in supporting smallholders’ information and communication needs, thus empowering them to act. Neema recognised the opportunity to localise this value for Tanzania.

Following the short course, Neema co-authored the academic paper Determinants of the Use of Cell phones in Access to Beef Cattle Market Information for Smallholders in Mpwapwa District, Tanzania with Zebedayo S. K Mvena and Dr Eligy M Shirima, published in 2016. She also used her Australia Awards gained skills and knowledge in proposal development and public speaking, to present at the Southern African Research & Innovation Management Association in May 2017.

Alumna Neema Urassa with a group of participants at an agricultural site in Kibaoni Village, Kongwa district-Tanzania.
Alumna Neema Urassa with a group of participants at an agricultural site in Kibaoni Village, Kongwa district-Tanzania.

She later developed a research project to establish the role that cell phones play in communicating and disseminating market information, for beef cattle smallholders in Mpwapwa district, Dodoma Region. Mpwapwa district is a catchment area for beef cattle marketing. The project investigated the channels used for beef cattle market information, the factors influencing smallholders’ use of cell phones to access market information and the extent to which cell phones are used. Historically, beef smallholders could only access market information through traditional media platforms such as newspapers, radio and TV. Experience taught Neema that these media platforms were not always accessible in the rural areas, as challenges such as smallholders’ illiteracy and low income were barriers to accessing information.

Her research project found that informal networks and personal relationships contributed to market information sharing in the district. The findings showed that 65 per cent of respondents reported their fellow livestock keepers as their primary source of market information, followed by middlemen (27.7 per cent), and principal cattle buyers from other regions (7.3 per cent). Also, 84.2 per cent of respondents preferred calling to access market information as it enabled rapid interaction with the various actors involved in the market. In addressing their low-income levels, 21.5 per cent of the respondents found that the use of cell phones saved both their money and time on the market searching process, while 19.2 per cent reported that they could secure better prices using their devices. The study confirms the critical role that mobile technology can play to access market information, as it has increased the bargaining power and timely decision making of producers. Also, it facilitates financial transactions through mobile banking.

As a rural development practitioner, it was important for Neema to understand how development occurred in the rural areas through the adoption of cell phones to enhance the marketing of cattle. It was also fulfilling to find that apart from communicating with friends and family members, farmers had adopted technology to seek information for cattle production and marketing as well as to access financial services like M-pesa (mobile phone-based money transfer).

“It was concluded that cell phone technology could improve traditional communication channels, enhance rapid consultation and increase access to cattle buyers when a critical need arises,” says Neema. She shared the research findings with local government authorities and extension agents who have started to convey multiple messages to village leaders and smallholders who possess cell phones.

The project recommends establishing a central government server where livestock information can be archived and accessed by smallholders through text and voice messages. The study will be replicated to cover a larger area comprising of five agro-ecological zones in Tanzania starting with the dairy cattle sub-sector, thus achieving a multiplier effect. Furthermore, the study’s scope will be expanded to investigate the strengths and weaknesses of services provided in such rural communities, therefore informing innovations that can improve beneficiary services. Ultimately mobile technology and informal networks can be enhanced to play a role in achieving competitiveness, inclusive growth in the agricultural sector and poverty reduction by leveraging on their ability to inform and empower stakeholders in the agro-pastoral sector.

Neema is als a member of the Australia Award Women in Leadership Network. The network is made up of over 350 female award Alumni who focus on leading change in their various spheres of influence, throughout the continent. For more information on the network, click here.

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