Monday, June 15, 2015

In late May, the government of Kenya took a revolutionary step in streamlining their farming subsidy paradigm by selecting a local mobile phone company to help aid them in their process. The company Safaricom, the largest mobile phone company in the region, has agreed to launch a pilot program that will give the farmers of Kenya access to government funds and materials for farming via their mobile phones. The program has invited over half a million farmers to take part in this new pilot program.

Saving Time, Increasing Efficiency

The process of giving subsidies to farmers has always been a struggle. Historically, it involves numerous activities that amount to red tape: vetting eligible farmers, finding solutions for providing funds and fertilizer for those farmers, not to mention the number of bureaucrats necessary to maintain the subsidy programs. This time-consuming and inefficient process has been begging for a new method of subsidy delivery for many years.

The new solution is called the E-Fertilizer Subsidy Management System. It allows farmers to use electronic vouchers to request fertilizer for their farmland using their mobile phones, rather than having to contact these departments with landlines, by mail, or in person. There are two main benefits to this process. First of all, Kenyan farmers will get much needed immediate access to the farming materials they need. Secondly, ministerial officials will receive clearer data regarding the amount and quality of farming subsidies that will be required in the years to come.

SMS Texting to the Rescue

The E-Fertilizer Subsidy is actually very simple. The beneficiaries use simple SMS text messages to communicate with the providers. The E-Fertilizer Subsidy responds back, managing the issuance, redemption, and reconciliation of these electronic vouchers. The reporting capabilities and the direct connection to these Kenyan farmers provide valuable data for the ministry, allowing them to improve their future decision-making and streamline the distribution of fertilizer throughout the country.

Though the project will begin with only half a million farmers, state officials plan to expand the program to include over 3.5 million farmers that use mobile phones. Furthermore, the ministry aims to stabilize fertilizer prices in the coming years in order to protect farmers from fluctuations in the cost of fertilizer.

Without mobile technology, these types of distribution models would not be possible. Supply chain challenges have been difficult to repair in past years, and Kenyan officials would like to improve the process with Safaricom’s help. And in a country where over 24% of the GDP is based in agriculture, a mobile-based solution for farming shows the amazing impact that a little phone can have upon an emerging economy.