Roha Tariq | Palladium - Sep 03 2019
Closing the Information Gap is Good for Farmers and Business

A Pakistani farmer uses mobile technology. Source: Market Development Facility

Mehar Jahan is a smallholder farmer who grows apricots and potatoes in the remote but beautiful mountainous valley of Shigar in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. Weather changes in these regions can be sudden and dramatic, damaging crops and affecting yields, and farmers have very limited access to information. Most can't get reliable weather reports and use outdated cultivation techniques.

This lack of information leads to lower yields and lower incomes for these smallholders and their families. Mobile technology can play an important role, and telecom companies have much to gain by expanding their services to close this information gap.

Private Sector Expansion

Telenor, one of Pakistan's largest cellular carriers and telecom companies, was keen to enter Gilgit-Baltistan. But there are always challenges to expanding into rural areas like this one, especially a lack of infrastructure. The Market Development Facility (MDF) already understood the needs of the farmers and helped Telenor create a targeted agricultural advisory service, which gives updated information on weather, crops, and other practices.

For Telenor, providing this new service helps grow their market share and increase customer retention – which also ensure a sustainable service for the farmers.

By leveraging mobile technology, the potential benefits to farmers are manifold. Farmers are better able to manage weather conditions and safeguard their crops, leading to reduced post-harvest wastages. They can adopt best horticulture practices for increased crop yields and income.

Farmers can subscribe to the service for free, and it's available on any mobile phone. Telenor has also added a weekly radio show featuring agricultural experts who discuss issues and take questions from live callers, continuing to improve their services and retain more customers, longer.

Scalable Impact

With her husband, Mehar listens to Telenor's weather and crop advisory at least three times a week. She says, "In 2017, our potato yield dropped to 500kg due to a pest attack. Having learned about crop spraying techniques through Telenor's service, I tried them out and the following year, it increased the farm's yield to 4000kg – earning an extra USD 300."

Mehar, like many women in her region, dry apricots by placing them outside her home. If it rains, the apricots are spoiled and salvaged a bit by being fed to animals. Mehar picks, dries, and sells apricots herself in the local market.

Before her subscription to the service, she lost around 120kg of apricots in rain, but now that she can better plan her drying practices, she has been able to reduce losses and use the extra money to buy clothes for herself and her family.

Sher Wali, a potato farmer, shared, "Last year I lost 1000kg of potatoes in rain worth USD 143. Now I listen to Telenor’s service daily and plan my cultivation and harvest accordingly. This season, I planned timely harvesting as per the rain forecast and avoided any losses."

To date, Telenor's service has reached 128,042 and 78,594 farmers have used the information provided. Now, MDF and Telenor are expanding into Balochistan to launch a similar service that will provide actionable crop advisory, nutrition advisory, and relevant and timely weather updates to farmers on their phone. This service will also provide women with information on a range of topics, such as how to look after livestock, crop management, family health, and nutrition.

Telenor connects its customers to the critical information they need, which in turn grows its business. By creating an impact for farmers, from better quality crops to more income, it can continue to offer more and better services to more people, creating a cycle where everyone is better off.

Palladium manages the implementation of the DFAT-funded Market Development Facility project.