Leroy Dzenga Features Writer —
Smartphones are undoubtedly an important fixture in every modern life. Most sectors of society and the economy are already tapping into the technology, using it to access their target audiences while utilising their interactive features. Agriculture becomes the latest fraternity to reap rewards from the upsurge insmartphone prominence.

In December last year, Welthungerhilfe, a global development organisation, came up with an agricultural application targeting small holder communal farmers in Zimbabwe. Called Kurima Mari, which loosely translates to farming for money, the application seeks to enable communal farmers to explore the commercial potential they possess as farmers.

Extra Project Community engagement officer Tawanda Hove says the application gives a technological face to small holder farming in the country.

“The Kurima Mari application is an agriculture-based digital extension tool for smart phones designed to assist rural small holder farmers and extension field officers,” Hove said.

The app, he said, provides information on production, marketing and contacts to help farmers increase their income from agriculture. Zimbabwe has an acute shortage of agriculture extension workers with a ratio of one agricultural extension officer servicing 1 100 farmers.

“It is not feasible for the extension worker to visit every small holder farmer in a given month to address their specific farming needs.

“These extension workers have mobility challenges such that even if they did work out a plan of attending to their small holder farmers, they would not attend to them all in a timely manner,” he said.

Kurima Mari fills the gap by providing a self-help extension tool bringing access to extension whenever the farmer needs it. Quite often, smallholder farmers do not have ready access to agricultural literature which can aid their efforts. A lot of books are embedded in the application as well as tutorial videos on how to execute some of the best practices involved in the farming process.

“Videos are a practical way of demonstrating some of the things which could take time to explain verbally. They are packaged in the form of self-help tutorials,” Hove said.

Kurima Mari works offline without any broadband connection; this makes it suitable for rural communities who in some instances face intermittent disruptions to mobile network communication. Hove affirmed that the introduction of the application is not an attempt to replace the agriculture extension officer but to aid their work.

“The application is not designed to compete with the extension worker but to complement their efforts. The motivation behind the application is to strengthen the existing extension system and not replace it,” he said.

The application was developed in close consultation with the agricultural extension workers, so there is no feeling of resentment towards it. For easy decoding of the message, the application carries material in different vernacular languages and the makers say they are making efforts to make it accessible to most farmers.

“The application does have material in vernacular languages although the language of instruction is currently in English.

“We are working on a second upgraded version of the application and we will be adding a language options facility where one can choose the preferred language,” Hove said.

So far about 22 000 farmers, mostly from the Midlands area, have started using the application. Farmers in the Midlands area who have had a chance to use the application are confident that it will have a positive impact on their output. Revai Tembo from Ndumo communal area under Chief Gwesela in Zhombe has views on the capabilities of Kurima Mari.

“The application helps me keep records on our activities, this assists when we want to replicate our methods. We just refer to the application,” Tembo said.

This changes communal farming from its previous trial and error state where it was difficult to share the methodology amongst farmers.

“Now we can keep measurements of the inputs which we would have used on a crop in a season and this assists in planning. This is like a notebook but it is on a phone and as farmers we can easily exchange notes on using our phones,” she said.

She said the application is easy to use and the instructions are in video format and so easy to follow than the written pamphlets which they used to get from agricultural aides and personnel. Extension officers have also bought into the idea of using technology as it makes their efforts less strenuous.

Brian Mudzinganyama, a Shurugwi-based livestock production and development officer, said when he visits the farmers, the application would have done half the work.

“Since the introduction of Kurima Mari, our farmer visits have not been the same.

“Unlike in the past when we had to explain things from scratch, now we just go to polish up on the information they would have read,” Mudzinganyama said.

The interactive nature of the application is said to have created a link between farmers in different places.

“The experiences of farmers can now be shared on a look and learn basis. Farmers in different places can share stories on what they are encountering in their respective areas,” he said.

The interaction is what is known as electronic extension. Mudzinganyama said the app’s introduction does not in any way pose a threat to their importance.

“With the way Kurima Mari is being implemented there is coordination between development agents and the government. So, I do not see any threat,” he said.

The low penetration was proving to be an impediment between the farmers and the resourceful application.

“The challenge is that some farmers do not own smart phones and they lag behind when we share important information like weather updates and tips through the application,” said Mudzinganyama.

The limitation is stalling progress in the bid to fully implement the digital farming approach. Mudzinganyama said the app reduces the extension officer-farmer ratio significantly as in some cases physical visits are now being replaced by communication through the application.

The innovation is a timely addition as it comes pre-packaged with specific information on how to grow small grain crops. These are vital in the country`s response to the El Nino induced drought and climate change.

Concerns however, were raised on livestock information where they have notes on how to raise broilers but do not provide the same information on indigenous breeds. With the world drifting towards the digitalisation of sectors, agriculture needs similar ideas as it is integral to the Zimbabwean economy.

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