Ghana: Phone farming: How SMS is changing agriculture in Ghana (SpyGhana)

| November 11, 2013

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Three years ago, Abdul Rahman Takoro couldn’t afford to send his eight children to school. Several had to drop out as he struggled to pay their fees, because his farm failed to provide an income for the family.

Mr. Takoro is a farmer in the Northern Region of Ghana. He was hesitant to invest any money in his three-and-a-half hectare farm because he did not think his investment would pay off. But Mr. Takoro’s fortunes are brighter now that he’s discovered an SMS technology provided by a private communication company, Esoko.

Esoko’s simple text messaging system helps farmers access tips on weather, improved farming methods and market prices. While some farmers get this information through extension officers, extensionists reach barely a quarter of farmers in Ghana. Farmers often lack the education and resources to improve their yields, meet demand, and cope with rising prices for seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.

Clement Kofi Humado is the Minister for Food and Agriculture. He admits that farmers can face big challenges. The agricultural industry in Ghana has been struggling in recent years. A decade ago, agriculture contributed 40 per cent of the country’s GDP, according to the Ministry. Now, that figure is only 27 per cent.

Mr. Humado says, “… Smallholder farmers, particularly in Brong Ahafo, Upper East and Upper West regions, have produced a lot of grain … [but] are unable to send [it] to the market.”

Without a reliable source of price information, farmers are often unaware of market prices for crops. So traders sometimes dictate prices to farmers.

Esoko researchers visit fifty markets across Ghana to compile a daily market rate. This information is relayed via SMS to the farmers and traders who subscribe to the service. Farmers can also receive information on weather patterns, and advice on the best time to plough, sow, and even harvest their crops.

Mr. Takoro is one of about 120,000 farmers in the Northern Region who are making use of the SMS-based information. He’s been receiving the text messages for two years.

He says: “What we gain from Esoko is immeasurable. They alert us with prices in markets nationwide … whatever I produce I can send it there to sell.” Mr. Takoro’s latest SMS informed him that 100 kilo of yellow maize are selling for 70 cedis [$31 US] in Accra’s Agbogbloshie Market, and sorghum is priced at 160 cedis [$72 US] per bag.

Thanks to Esoko, Mr. Takoro can decide whether selling his harvest to traders or selling it at the market will generate the biggest profit. He even passes the information along to other farmers, some of whom have increased their yields because of the text messages.

Best of all, Mr. Takoro can now afford to send his children to school.