Most development proponents will agree that economic and trade development are key for increasing prosperity and the standard of living in Africa. In particular, the empowering of small holder farmers and traders, who are often women, will be key in helping nations pull themselves out of poverty.
Last week the WTO Public Forum had a lot to offer in terms of development discussion, however one thing that stood out for FFTD was the prominence of technology, and how it can be harnessed to boost trade in the East African region.
TradeMark East Africa announced that it will be providing support for iShamba – a mobile subscription service that provides Kenyan farmers with critical agricultural information and advice in real time. The mobile subscription service started with 20000 subscribers but now has an impressive 300,000 and users are seeing genuine and encouraging results in terms of increased yields.
Mobile phone usage is at 80% in Kenya currently, and bound to increase, for many rural communities it is their only form of access to the wider community. By harnessing the mobile phone, iShamba is allowing those previously cut off direct access to updates on farming inputs, best practice, weather forecasts and supply prices all through SMS. In addition, it will allow farmers to call with specific questions.
TradeMark East Africa have already supported 170 projects across the east Africa region, and it is encouraging to see them embracing technology. Ahead of the WTO Public Forum the Director for Trade Policy and Facilitation at TMEA commented that ‘We are in an exciting phase of development when innovators in the region are adopting and adapting technology and digital platforms to build a sustainable route out of poverty.’
In addition, Senior Director for Business Competitiveness at TradeMark East Africa Lisa Karanja explained the particular appeal of the iShamba platform, stating: “We know that insufficient access to knowledge and information is a key challenge for farmers in Kenya. Research in the region and beyond has shown that modern ICT offers great potential to improve agriculture in Africa for the benefit of both consumers and smallholder famers. TMEA is going a step further to support ICT innovations like iShamba that bridge the gap to provide accurate and timely information to an additional 350,000 in Kenya.”
FFTD looks forward to the positive results iShamba and TMEA will undoubtedly yield and hope international funders continue to recognise the value of investing in trade development through support small scale farmers and traders.