From Kambia District in northwest Sierra Leone, west Africa, Fatmata Kamara is one of hundreds of female farmers using a new free mobile phone app to access to vital information to ensure they get the best price possible for their products.
With funding from the European Union, the Agriculture Knowledge Information Systems (AKIA) app was pioneered by Trócaire.
It gives female farmers accurate information on average prices for crops such as rice, groundnuts and vegetables at their local market, as well as weather updates and contact details for suppliers and the government’s agriculture advisory services.
Until now, the 197 women of this farming group did not have access to information to help them make the best farming and trading decisions, making it difficult for them to move out of poverty.
According to Fatmata, who is chairperson of the Sapah Women’s Farming Organisation in Kambia District, access to the app has improved her livelihood and given her the confidence to negotiate effectively.
“As women farmers, we used to sell our harvest anyway we could, mostly to motorbike riders who could bring our products to the local weekly market. We did not know how to sell our harvest at the right price, because we didn’t know how much the items were being sold at, but the AKIS Aid app has enlightened us.
“Now before we sell our harvest, I check my phone for the prices and then I will allow a trader to buy the commodity at the right price. If I see that the prices are not right, I will keep the produce safe until prices improve.”
As part of the project, the community was given a building to store their crops and tools.
Fatmata says now that she is getting good prices for her produce she can save and borrow money using the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) scheme, which was introduced to the group through Trócaire.
“If I see that the price is favourable, I will go ahead and sell the harvest. Then I will keep the profit in the VSLA. Any problem I have, I borrow from the VSLA to cater for myself and my children. This VSLA has helped all the women farmers in the community,” says Fatmata.
Fatmata is optimistic about the future and the livelihood prospects for her and the women of Sapah Women’s Farming Organisation.
“This AKIS Aid app has given us more ideas. We have gained a lot as women. We are not going backwards again. We will always move forward. We will mobilise and take action about the price, so that we will not fall back.”
Trócaire and local partners have trained rural women technology champions to use the app and share the information with their fellow farmers.
Beatrice Bangura, project manager for Trócaire partner, ABC-Development, said: “Women form the highest percentage of the farming sector in Sierra Leone but are highly vulnerable and marginalised in the society. Accessing information related to prices in the market and extension services is very difficult for them.”