Zimbabwe: Small-scale farmers use cell phones to get information on markets, inputs and weather (By Nqobani Ndlovu, for Farm Radio Weekly)

| September 9, 2013

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Gladmore Nyathi struggled for many years to find a market for his chickens. Mr. Nyathi is a small-scale poultry farmer in the Natisa area of Kezi, about 40 kilometres south of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. But he didn’t have enough customers, so he had to travel to Bulawayo.

Then Mr. Nyathi discovered that his cell phone could reduce his marketing costs, and the time he spent looking for buyers.

Mr. Nyathi says it was difficult before he started using his cell phone. It cost him $60 US to hire a car to go to Bulawayo with his chickens, with additional costs for fuel.

He says, “I used to spend days in the city, and would be forced to sell the chickens at way below the market value so that I could return home.” He often had to sell chickens at $4.50 US each, below the market value of $7 US, in order to spend less time in Bulawayo.

As a member of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, Mr. Nyathi can now use the organization’s text message platform to help him buy and sell farm produce. Small-scale farmers pay a registration fee of $10 US to the Union and a monthly subscription fee of $5 US.

Mr. Nyathi explains: “All that I have to do is to send a text message to Zimbabwe Farmers Union that I want to sell my chickens. And, within minutes, I receive a message of the available markets.”

After identifying a market, Mr. Nyathi contacts potential buyers. He says, “We negotiate via text messages, and I receive payment on delivery. There are no stresses related to where I will find the markets.”

Morison Mugwiyo is another small-scale farmer who benefits from his cell phone. The Farmers’ Union cell phone platform makes it easier to find farming inputs when they are needed. Mr. Mugwiyo says: “In the past, the onset of the farming season was stressful because more time was spent looking for affordable maize seeds in Bulawayo. Now, it takes only a matter of minutes to have that information.”

Finding markets and inputs is not the only way farmers are benefiting from cell phones in Zimbabwe. Berean Mukwende is the Vice President of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union. He says the Union sends information on farm produce prices to its members. Farmers can then make a decision, before planting, on which crops to grow. Mr. Mukwende says farmers also request agricultural information via text messages.

Mr. Julios Nyoni is a small-scale tobacco farmer in Zimbabwe. He is happy with the cell phone services offered by the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, and thinks the service has come at the right time. Mr. Nyoni says the weather has become unpredictable because of the changing climate. But, he says, “I am now able to practice crop rotation because of reliable weather information and advice from Zimbabwe Farmers Union on what to plant, when and where.”