Improving Farmer Efficiency in the Developing World

In an interview with Bloomberg last week Bill Gates explained how work with improved seeds which can cope with climate extremes can increase farmer productivity substantially. He explained that this was an example where one investment could help many countries at once. In particular Bill was predicting African farmers would increase productivity by 50% by 2030 and make Africa self-sufficient on food production whereas today they are spending $50B per year importing food grown in places like the US.

It occurred to me that just producing better seeds was just one of many things which should be done in improving farmer efficiency and that communication between farmers telling them what were the best practises and approaches including which seeds to use were just as important. The obvious mechanism for this sharing of info is the Internet and yet the Internet is less mature in these countries than it is in the west. Also this sharing and communication needs to be via mobile phones rather than using PCs and now needs to work with all phones not just Smartphones. Even in India with a fast maturing smartphone market there is still 21% feature phones and it is the feature phones that many poor farmers possess.

We’ve been working on these issues for some years and today we’re releasing an App specific to farmers in developing countries. Its called FarmAppies — the idea is that farmers can use a smartphone (iPhone and Android) to create apps which recommend best practises and advice for farmers in these countries. The difference is the apps which are created will run on all phones including the Java feature phone still prevalent in these countries as well as the Android and iPhones. See http://farm.appies.me for more details.

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