Rwanda: Agronomist in the Pocket
8-year-old Marie-Claire Mutoni is a little girl from Nyaruguru district in the southern part of Rwanda. Her mother, Marguerite, a widow of four, has been struggling to provide for her children, including putting food on the table.
Up-to-date information provided through a mobile phone has recently changed her situation. Land contraction, lack of fertilisers, improved seeds and farming techniques were preventing her from securing a good harvest. World Vision Rwanda (WVR) intervened and helped create an application to be downloaded for farmers to read on a mobile phone from sowing through to harvest. Marguerite would listen to the recordings about improved farming techniques on a mobile phone.
WVR introduced a farming technology known as e-Hinga in the local language (e-Farming). It is a technology invented to help land smallholder farmers in Rwanda to improve their crop yields by accessing agronomic services via a mobile phone. “This application came as a result of listening to the needs of small-scale farmers and realising that technology could bridge the gap,” George Gitau, WVR National Director explains. “We came together with farmers and thought of how a mobile phone application could address their needs. Over time, we developed an App that now speaks to our farmers,” he continues.
E-Farming is a comprehensive agricultural extension information system designed to offer up-to-date information regarding the cultivation of various groups, from farming up to harvesting. Marguerite’s produce has doubled since she started using the instructions provided by this service.
The instructions have been lodged online by the support of WVR in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture to develop this application. “We now have our own agronomist in our pocket,” says Jean Pierre Havugimana, President of one of the Farmers Association.
During critical periods of farming, like sowing and harvesting, Jean Pierre makes sure that association members are accessing useful and timely information. Every day, he wakes up early in his water-proof boots to bring the mobile phone to Marguerite who has started harvesting her beans. Farmers need guidance on harvest conservation.
After training farmers on the new technology, World Vision also provides smart phones to farmers’ associations. “Each association is supported with four smart phones to help them access information provided by the e-Farming,” Ananias, World Vision’s western region Manager explains.
Since Marguerite started using the instructions provided by the new farming technology, the production of her beans doubled. She can now harvest up to 200 kg on her small piece of land. “Before using the up-to-date information on this phone, I was using bean fertilisers on tomatoes and other crops,” she says, laughing at her old practice. Now, she has all information needed related to farming, fertilising, harvesting and harvest conservation. This is her second harvest since she started using e-Farming technology.
Her daughter, Marie-Claire, started primary school last year, yet she didn’t have a school uniform. Despite poverty, Marguerite made school fees a top priority as her older daughter, Diane, had started secondary school. But the cost of education quickly became a burden.
Today, this burden is gone, and Marie-Claire will go back to school this year with a uniform like other children.
The new technology provides various options such as reading or listening for those who don’t know how to read and write. It also comes with images that guide farmers further on crop diseases and on how these can be avoided and treated.
George Gitahu appreciates the transformation of marshlands that used to be places to graze cows for community members into sources of increased food production. “Our mindset has changed,” George rejoices. World Vision realises that new technology has helped farmers access agronomic services directly in the field, and has further plans to scale up this project in other areas of intervention.