A friend posts a picture on Facebook of a wilting, yellowed plant. What’s wrong with it? the friend asks.
The expert green thumbs come to the rescue with virtual prescriptions. More light or less water, they say, and voilà: Friend posts new picture posttreatment, the happy result of the hive mind. Now imagine this on the global agricultural scale.
There’s just one hitch: 60 percent of the world isn’t online.
But those people do have cell phones, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the fastest-growing mobile region for the past five years, with growth rates more than twice the global average. About 88 percent of the continent’s overall population—including 79 percent of rural populations—is covered by a cellular signal. Sub-Saharan Africa is also the region expected to suffer the most from climate change, in terms not only of reduced agricultural productivity and increased water insecurity but also of increased exposure to extreme weather events and increased risks to human health, according to the FAO.
Enter WeFarm, a farmer-to-farmer SMS-based messaging service available in Kenya, Uganda, and Peru. WeFarm takes on-the-ground knowledge and experience and leverages it into an agricultural information network. It has led to farmers diversifying into new crops, saving sick livestock, and starting micro-businesses, all of which improve their livelihood. WeFarm won the Google Impact Challenge in 2014, and it recently took home a $10,000 win from theClimate Information Prize initiative in Kenya, which will enable it to reach 10,000 new farmers.