The project focuses on small farming families in rural areas. With the help of agroecology, the food security of families is improved. Women play an important role: they are the people to liaise with and have control over the money. The fact that they have their own income has strengthened their position. In the short term, this gives women a stronger position in their own families. In the longer term, it helps to break down encrusted social structure.
“Hello, I have a problem with my Chinese cabbages: they are being eaten from the inside. I’ve never seen anything like it. Thank you very much for your help.” Teresia Mpunga, a farmer from Masasi in southern Tanzania, records this message on her mobile phone at 11.26 a.m. and posts it along with a photo on the Internet. By 11.55 a.m. she has received a message from Angelika Hilbeck, agroecologist at ETH Zurich: “It’s probably caterpillars, which eat everything they come across, from roots to stems. They must be destroyed quickly as soon as you see them eating above ground.”
Thousands of kilometres and very different life-stories lie divide the two women. And yet: in just 30 minutes, the renowned scientist gives the farmer a possible solution to her problem.
“Facebook” of Tanzanian farmers
This little digital revolution is called “Macho Sauti”. Literally translated from Swahili, this means “the eyes, the voice”. Technically, the principle is simple: with a smartphone and the appropriate app, farmers take a picture of the plant that is causing them problems, leave a comment on the phone and send the whole thing to an Internet platform that can be used by other farmers as well as agronomists and scientists in Tanzania and other countries.
An online translator translates the comment from Swahili into English and vice versa. Experts in Tanzania or Switzerland can thus quickly provide personally tailored answers to the most pressing questions. Thanks to GPS, the location of the affected field can be determined precisely so that a disease could for example be prevented from spreading to neighbouring countries.
Technology as a bridge
With “Macho Sauti”, SWISSAID supports farmers in Tanzania who use agroecological methods. Agroecology does not use chemical products and assumes that farmers acquire knowledge about such things as soil fertility, the production of fertiliser from compost or manure and the preparation of organic plant protection products.
In the remote areas, however, access to education and knowledge is scarce: 23 percent of the population in Tanzania is illiterate. Technology aims to close this gap: with the help of smartphones, smallholder farmers can form a network without having to leave their village. Their new knowledge helps them increase their productivity.
A network of 6,000 farmers
88 smartphones have already been distributed to 176 farmers and 1,717 posts and 1,841 comments have been made. In turn, each farmer who is trained passes on his knowledge to a group of 17 farmers who have been given a smartphone between them. By the end of the project, 200 devices will have been distributed and 6,000 farmers will be networked.
For Teresia Mpunga and the other farming families, “Macho Sauti” is a gift from heaven: “I believe that thanks to this new technology, our plants will have fewer diseases. So we can increase our incomes and have a better life.”