Echo Mobile: Helping Farmers Build Climate Resilience

Echo Mobile harnesses the power of mobile technology

In many developing countries, the effects of severe climate changes are seen most often in the reduction of food resources, as well as degradation of water ecosystems. Yet, farmers oftentimes receive little or no relevant information to help them cope with drought and other climatic stresses, which lead to further productivity inefficiencies.

Echo Mobile (Echo) is one of the many social enterprises aiming to deploy mobile technology on the farm to build climate resilience. Launched by Juhudi Labs, Echo Mobile provides a mobile platform that enables real-time field reporting, geospatial analysis, and integrated communication.[1] Through their mobile devices, farmers, especially in remote areas, can not only send real-time field data through SMS, but also receive agricultural advisories to help them adapt to the changing climate conditions.

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Field Data Collection

Traditionally, field data collection has been slow and cumbersome. Data is first collected in the field, filled in on paper forms, then is transported to a central location (often several kilometers away), where it is then transcribed.[2] The manual nature as well as process delay can often hamper the ability to make meaningful and effective real-time decisions.

In recent years, mobile phone adoption in developing countries has grown at an exponential rate, unseen in any other sector. More often than not, villagers are more likely to have access to a mobile phone than clean water or electricity, and 77% of the world’s 6 billion active mobile phone users are located in the developing world.[3] The availability of mobile phones in the developing world is radically changing the agricultural landscape in terms of data collection and information delivery.

And this is where Echo comes in. Through both a web-based application and an SMS messaging system, Echo allows farmers to send field data using mobile phones in real time, and provide access to high-quality, locally-relevant information about weather, markets, and guidance on farming technologies.[4] Data collection through a mobile device improves not only the speed of the collection process, but also the quality of farming information obtained from the field. Because mobile phone users can send data from many remote locations, information can be transmitted for database storage and analysis in near real-time.[5]

GeSI Partnership in Uganda

In one of the most successful initiatives, Echo Mobile partnered with UN Global e-Sustainability Initiative, and launched a platform initiative to help Ugandan farmers to adapt to climate change. Through Echo’s SMS application platform, farmers can use the mobile tools to collect and send field data to a regional GeSI research center. The data is analyzed in real-time, and farmers receive agricultural guidance, as well as crop and livestock market information and weather data.[6]

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More than 100,000 farmers now receive seasonal and short-term weather forecasts and agricultural advisories on low-cost rainwater harvesting techniques, and drought and flood response mechanisms via mobile-phone technology.[7] In turn, farmers are able to increase yields, minimize crop damage and resource wastage, allowing them to build greater resilience to erratic weather patterns.

Disaster Response – Fight Against Ebola

Echo Mobile has also employed its mobile technology to address disaster situations. When the endemic hit in May 2015, Echo joined forces with IBM Africa’s research unit and regional telecom provider Airtel in a pilot program to combat Ebola in Sierra Leone.[8]

Through the initiative, local villagers used the Echo Mobile platform to send relevant disease information, such as number and conditions of people affected, via SMS to a central information hub. Echo then aggregates and translate the data with analytics, which is received and analyzed by the Sierra Leone Open Government Initiative through IBM’s research facility. Medical and response teams are then dispatched to assist affected families and communities.[9]

The citizen engagement as well as the research response system has enabled the government to effectively allocate resources and identify particular areas of needs in real time. With the proliferation of mobile usage worldwide and advancement in remote data analytics, Echo as well as other communications providers will be able to use mobile technology to significantly enhance efforts in disaster response and recovery.

What’s next?

While the SMS nature of Echo’s information flow allows the applications to be deployed in the most remote areas, the range of services is still quite simple and limited. To fully take advantage of the latest agricultural technology and to effectively address the global shortage of food supply, Echo should follow the footsteps of other telecom providers, and explore partnership with equipment and hardware OEMs to create “Connected Smart Farming” solutions to solve the agricultural challenge.[10] For example, soil-based sensors and camera imaging devices can help analyze presence of nutrients in the crops, as well as identify diseased plants and weed-infested areas. Location-based solutions and tractor sensors could also reduce wastage and identify areas in the field where fertilizers or pesticides are needed the most.[11]

Through Echo Mobile, farmers in remote areas in developing countries have improved access to field data technologies, which they can use to better anticipate climate change-related risks and build resilience in farming communities.

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[1] Kulsoom. “Meet Echo Mobile, the first Juhudi Labs partner company”. Juhudi Labs Blog. October 23, 2014.

 

[2] Omondi, Julius. “Kenyan agriculture platform supports smallholder farmers”. BizTech Africa. November 17, 2013.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Caring for Climate. Business and Climate Change Adaption: Toward Resilient Companies and Communities. 2012.

[6] UN Framework on Climate Change. Enabling Farmers to Adapt to Climate change. http://unfccc.int/secretariat/momentum_for_change/items/9256.php

[7] Ibid.

[8] IBM. “IBM Launches Humanitarian Initative to Contain Ebola Outbreak in Africa.” Press Release. October 27, 2014.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Dasgupta, Jishnu. “Old MacDonald gets a “Smart Farm”. Nokia Blog. September 26, 2016

[11] Ibid.

 

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3 thoughts on “Echo Mobile: Helping Farmers Build Climate Resilience

  1. Great blog post – it’s exciting to see how mobile technologies can positively impact low income communities which are most threatened by climate change. I would be curious to see results of EchoMobile’s information services to understand whether delivery of information alone can materially impact yields and farmer incomes. I am also curious to learn more about how EchoMobile is monetizing its service. Surely the data it collects from farmers is valuable to various businesses and agencies; the question just remains “how valuable?” and whether that value is enough to sustain the company’s operations. That answer likely comes as customers for the service/data emerge in the years to come. In one positive development, I have heard of Echo’s service being utilized (and likely paid for) by investing organizations like Acumen and the Grassroots Business Fund (see more at: https://thegiin.org/assets/documents/pub/collecting-impact-data-using-mobile-technology.pdf).

  2. This seems like a very exciting field, but I am concerned that farmers will over-react to the data they receive. I feel that as climate changes, this resource could lead to the overuse of fertile lands for the sake of short term livelihood. Obviously moving plots of land isn’t as simple and picking up and moving, but owners of the best land in emerging markets could be tempted to neglect the long term in favor of over-using their land for near term profits. With climate uncertainty, a land owner may not be certain that their land will still be favorable in the future, leading to impatience in leasing out rights.

  3. This is a great initiative and I really see the impact that technology can have on the “BOP”. I am however wondering how accurate is the data collected. In many African countries, data collection can be skewed, or inexistent. Perhaps an effort to gather accurate data will make the efforts a lot more impactful. Also, although I see the need to introduce imaging and sensor data, do you think that there is the right telecom infrastructure to transfer the data to the farmers? In general, farming areas lack access to broadband which is why many companies have prioritized SMS based platform. The ideas you suggested would work a lot better with broadband access which proves challenging in the targeted areas.

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