First-World Tech in Third-World Agriculture

Tanner Sheahan
CPS Tangent

Technology has changed the way we live, not much to argue with there and I'm certainly not the first to make that claim. We communicate differently, travel differently, enjoy entertainment differently, consume internet content differently, play games differently, interact with each other differently, and so on. Most of us carry a pretty impressive computer around in our pockets and access the web through many venues many times every day. The smartphone is part of our culture now and it has done a lot in a few short years to enhance the way agriculture does business. Emails in the field, access to product labels in the buggy, high-resolution photographs to be sent in for identification, location based aerial imagery in the palm of our hands, and sample results and records at our fingertips are a few examples of how my job has changed since I started in 2005. In this country we have always sought the bleeding edge of advancement so the integration of the smartphone into our daily lives on the farm has fit well with the auto-steered auto-leveled sprayer, variable-rate-controlled fertilizer or lime buggy, and yield-monitoring combine. But what about the developing world?

If you know me very well you know I'm an Android fan. I don't want to feed Phone War III but here's a few Ag related examples of why I love the mobile operating system from Google. Since  Android is an open-source operating system any company that would like to license and build an Android device is able to do so legally. This creates fierce competition both for high-end, top-performing devices and those that would satisfy the price conscious consumer...or farmers in poverty stricken nations. A couple years ago I read an article about how an $80 Android phone was sweeping across Kenya and changing, or rather creating, a digital landscape. Suddenly small-holder farmers were able to check the weather forecast or get actual commodity prices. The developing world is by nature rife with corruption as factions vie for power. Access to real, current, and relevant information for the individual helps level the playing field.

Kenya is experiencing a technology boom through what some have dubbed the "Silicon Savannah" and companies like iHub based in Kenya's capital of Nairobi. Since most of the developing world survives by subsistence agriculture, farm-focused apps are changing the way agribusiness is done there.
"In Kenya, everybody is building apps for Kenya," says Eric Hersman, the US founder of the iHub. "They look around themselves and say, 'Well what do most people do?'... 70% of the population is based on agricultural-related businesses."
Farmer Charles Mbatha (left) is now able to check the price
of his goods using Susan Oguya's invention (right)
About 1% of the US population claims "farming" as the their primary occupation. This doesn't alleviate it, but may explain the aggravating lack of good, usable, innovative agriculture apps here in the States. It seems existing Ag software companies are maddeningly slow to embrace the mobile platforms dominating mobile technology today. In Kenya, beginning with the SMS based M-Pesa back in 2007, and continuing with apps like M-Farm and FarmShop, a plethora of locally relevant mobile tech has been developed in Kenya by Kenyans for Kenyan farmers. That's pretty cool.
India is experiencing a similar technology boom for rural small-holder farms. 
[C]ase in point is Krishidhan Seeds, an Indian agricultural biotech company, which has rolled out 3G-enabled Android 2.3 mobile device tablets for its sales and marketing field force. Through this initiative, the company has enabled 300-plus technically trained and qualified agriculture specialists to be on the ground and provide real-time and instant solutions to the farmers. The 3G device with its unique features and high-quality camera, enables the employees to capture photographs, video footage and voice data from the field and send them to Krishidhan experts located in their R&D offices at Jalna and Pune and seek their support in providing solution on the spot to the farmers.
The future of ag-tech is bright. We need more forward-thinking companies pushing the envelope and competing to bring the best mobile solutions and GIS integration here in our own country. It's exciting to see some of the largest land-masses and populations in the developing world approaching modern farming practices simply because they now have access to information we all take for granted. 

I hope the adoption of mobile technology by farmers in the developing world continues to grow exponentially because the global population continues to grow whether we have a way to feed them or not.