Rwanda: How Mobile Phones Are Helping Farmers to Access Agricultural Services in Rwanda

With a simple feature phone, under the support from One Acre Fund, Rwandan farmers currently have access to the quality farming inputs and training they need to grow more food and earn more money.

One Acre Fund is an international social enterprise that works to make farmers more prosperous. In Rwanda, One Acre Fund provides farmers access to products, tools, and services they need to improve their harvests, keep their families healthy, and their soils rich. They partner with government and private sectors to create a better and farmer-friendly food system. One Acre Fund also invests in agriculture value chains to make the private sector work for Rwandan farmers. In 2022, more than 750, 000 Rwandan farmers chose to work with One Acre Fund.

In order to enhance access to its agricultural services, One Acre Fund started distributing phones in 2018 as a pilot project in a few districts. Currently, phones have been scaled to all 27 rural districts and distributed to over 65,169 units since the beginning of the project. The target is to distribute 109,128 more by 2025.

Jacqueline Bakanirora, a farmer from Ruhuha sector in Bugesera district, said that she no longer walks miles to enroll for farming inputs because she uses a mobile phone she obtained from One Acre Fund.

“Before the farming season starts, we get a message informing us to prepare for the season by enrolling for farming inputs. We then register through a given code on mobile phones, sharing the quantity of fertilizers and seeds we need. This has saved both time and money we used to spend. When the agro-inputs are available, we also get an SMS informing us,” she noted.

She said that since the seeds and fertilizers are secured on credit, the farmers get updates via the given mobile phones about when to pay back after harvesting.

“These mobile phones also have FM radio to which we listen in order to follow and learn about agriculture extension services aired on different radio stations,” she noted.

Meanwhile Bakanirora said they also need smartphones to be able to easily access different agriculture services.

“If a crop is attacked by pests and diseases, we need to use smartphones to take photos and send them to facilitators so that advice is provided or other measures are taken,” she said.

Another farmer, Faustin Karambizi, added: “We order fertilizers and seeds using the phones at home while doing other activities. We also receive SMS telling us when to collect these agro-inputs. However, we also need smartphones so that it eases the way of communicating because we need more information about farming activities and markets.”

One Acre Fund distributes farming inputs namely fertilizers and seeds including maize, bean, fruit, vegetable, Irish potato seeds among others.

The organization has rolled out the use of USSD (a text messaging-based service available on basic mobile phones), through which farmers get agricultural services straight from their phones.

“USSD functions are important tools that give farmers access to farming and market information and allow them to sign up for products and services,” said Evariste Bagambiki, Communications Specialist at the organization.

Phone ownership increases farmers’ connectivity, access to information, and other digital services.

The simple feature phone can help a farmer access valuable agriculture extension services, secure better markets and ease remittances through Mobile Money services.

“A mobile phone helps farmers to access One Acre Fund’s services. To enroll with One Acre Fund, farmers must register and place their orders through the local One Acre Fund field officer or the partnership shop,” Bagambiki explained.

Smartphone sale pilot

He said that One Acre Fund also plans to start a smartphone sale pilot by the end of this year or early next year.

The move is timely given that, in Rwanda, most of the farm inputs are subsidized under Smart Nkunganire System Registration. To get subsidized inputs, a farmer needs to register under the subsidy system using his phone through USSD mode.

According to the 5th Rwanda Population and Housing Census, the large majority of Rwanda’s population has continuously adopted the use of mobile phones as one of the technology platforms to share information.