Dar es Salaam. Tanzania’s agriculture is set for a revolution with the introduction of two technological programmes that seek to help improving food and economic security. Introduced by Project Concern International (PCI) Tanzania, the mobile phone applications will change ways through which farmers and pastoralists get information and respond to issues affecting their activities.
The technological programmes AfriFarm and AfriScout which were launched on Friday have reportedly proved success during the pilot stage and have now been rolled out in Mara and Arusha regions.
“We are committed to working directly with families, communities and the government to end hunger in Tanzania,” said PCI’s president and chief executive officer Ms Carrie Hessler-Radelet during the launching ceremony. “We bring proven, scalable solutions that utilize innovative technology and mobile apps to reduce food insecurity and help pastoralists and farmers sustainably support their families for generations to come,” she added.
The event that showcased how the technologies work and their potential benefits was also attended by government officials and some development partners.
The AfriScout application provides pastoralists with data on community defined grazing maps using satellite imagery and crowd-sourced information on grazing hazards like animal diseases and predators. The programme allows the pastoralists to find pasture and water using their mobile phones.
“The pastoralists will now be in a position to know vegetation conditions of a particular area before they leave home. They can see where the surface water is and also get alerts on prohibited areas and dangers ahead,” said the programme coordinator for Arusha region Mr John Laffa. He said pastoralists were losing about $3,000 per household annually and the programmes has shown an improvement.
According to him, AfriScout seeks to improve climate-smart management of northern Tanzania’s dry lands, and the livestock that rely on them, by scaling access and use of the AfriScout mobile application among pastoralists in Longido, Monduli, Ngorongoro and Simanjiro districts.
With the support of Google.org and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), PCI previously developed and tested prototypes of the technology with community members beginning in 2013. Implemented in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, the maps have proven to be useful for pastoralists reducing herd mortality, saving time in search of pasture, and improving collective pasture management. Since October 2017, the mobile application has registered over 9,000 users.
AfriFarm helps smallholder farmers and those who support them take action against the devastating Fall Armyworm (FAW) pest.
The AfriFarm app enables local governments and agricultural extension workers to effectively monitor and respond to FAW, providing near real-time data to support critical action at the right moment.
“With the application, extension officers can scan the magnitude of the problem as reported. That way, they can respond quickly,” said PCI Tanzania Agriculture Manager Amithay Kuhanda who made a presentation at the meeting.
“We are also working very closely with the Tanzania Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI) which can easily recommend the type of pesticides a farmer can use when such incident is reported,” he added.
FAW poses a threat to the livelihoods and food security of smaller communities and village-based farmers across sub-Sahara Africa, as agriculture experts have estimated the potential damage to staple crops be in the billions of dollars over three years.
Piloted with support from United States Department of Agriculture in 2019 with 47 agriculture extension officers and 372 smallholder farmer fields in Tanzania, the app users improved their knowledge on how to respond to the pest by 14 per centage points after only three months of use. Mr Kuhanda said it also saves 70 per cent of the recurrent cost by reducing physical travels.
The programmes is currently implemented in four districts of Mara region where it was piloted.
Stakeholders say the technologies should be rolled out throughout the country, but with some more measures to improve the technologies.
“These are good and cheap technologies which we can embrace but there are things to improve,” said Mr Bakari Sagini from the President’s Office (Regional Administration and Local Governments). “They need to control information before they are published to pave way for verifications. Some people may distort information,” he added.
According to him, AfriScout should work closely with the land planners to follow the country’s land use plans and avoid unnecessary conflicts. “These apps should also provide information on and promote modern farming and grazing as well as information on the markets for the agriculture produces,” said Mr Sagini.
A pastoralist who used the application said it was working and actually saved their time to search for pastures.
“Before leaving home, we normally check where to go and that helps us to avoid prohibited places like those of the reserved areas,” said Mr Julius Ole Mariki, a traditional leader (Laigwanan) in Monduli who also attended the launching event.