The modelling was completed for farms of two hectares or less and assumed a high rate of adoption of mobile management of supplier networks, a fixed number of field agents per smallholder and a fixed number of smallholders per exporter.
Food buyers and exporters can use mobile phones to manage their networks of small-scale growers and help field agents collect information. Support organisations and governments could benefit from electronic records about conditions for farmers in developing countries.
Managing large numbers of small farms and growers requires networks of field agents, auditors and technical staff to gather a wide range of information. They carry out farm audits, check the quality and quantity of harvests, and report problems. Keeping detailed paper records for this information is inefficient, can be erratic and can lead to delayed decision making. Equipping field agents with mobile phones improves the supplier management process, providing a reliable, quick and cheap way of creating electronic records in a central database. Field agents visiting farms can use their mobile phones to input data on farmers’ locations, crops and expected yield. Mobile applications can provide prompts for information required for tasks such as technical audits. More efficient processes mean staff can visit more farms in less time, making fewer trips overall and reducing carbon emissions as well as spreading best-practice information more effectively.
Agents visiting farms could collect information about agricultural conditions, including diseases and pests, and social issues such as starvation and civil unrest. This would provide NGOs, governments and research organisations with valuable data on the challenges facing smallholder farmers and help to coordinate their response. If agents use mobile to collect better data, they could help individual farmers within their network of growers understand their performance, and suggest new techniques and examples of best practice from other farms. Farmers could also use mobiles to send information about their likely harvest date and other key indicators to food buyers and other organisations. Buyers and distributors could use this information to collect fresh food items more promptly and get them to market as soon as possible, reducing food waste and increasing agricultural incomes.
Managing grower networks could save 0.1 Mt of carbon in 2020, with an anticipated 0.6 million connections to mobile supplier management services.
In practice: Mobile platform for community care workers in South Africa could be extended to farmers38 Community health workers in South Africa are already using mobile phones to collect information about patients in the same way that field agents could gather information about farmers and their crops. Nompilo is one example of how Vodafone’s mobile platform is used by community health workers to manage data about patients and their treatments. There are few medical facilities in rural areas so community health workers provide essential healthcare for patients in their homes. Through Nompilo, caregivers can access patients’ health records and upload new information on treatments or request referrals. They can update records more quickly and healthcare providers can use the data on health workers’ location and progress to allocate resources more effectively. The technology behind Nompilo could easily be adapted for agricultural field workers visiting farms to keep records about farmers and their crop yields.