A recent blog post, titled Feed the Future in a Digital World: Elevating the Role of Digital Technologies in Global Food Security by Christopher Burns and Judy Payne explains the increased potential to use digital and mobile phone technology in agriculture systems, including aquaculture. Since the start of the Feed the Future initiative in 2009, the number of people with access to mobile phones has been on the rise. Between 2010 and 2015, among the 19 countries with Feed the Future programs, the number of people subscribing to mobile phones increased by 75%, with an 800% increase in smartphone use.

Burns and Payne highlight that as technological capacity increases, the US Agency for International Development has transitioned from having mobile phone technology as an “add-on” concept to a “core” component needed to achieve agriculture development goals.

For many farmers, mobile phones represent the most appropriate and efficient means of communication, further providing savings in time and money. Mobile phones give farmers access to information on prevailing market prices of cultured fish in various markets, providing them with leverage to improve their bargaining position and sell fish at higher prices.

To help further the advancement of technology in aquaculture, AquaFish Innovation Lab has partnered with researchers in Ghana, Uganda, and Kenya to develop and implement technologies that provide text-based market data and information via mobile phones.

In Ghana, AquaFish Innovation Lab researchers developed a service called the Seafood Market Information System (SMIS), a web-based tool that provides tilapia market information online as well as via voice and text messaging. AquaFish Innovation Lab researchers collaborated with officers from the Ghana Fisheries Commission and a local programming company, Farmerline, to create a central database hosted by researchers at Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. The database is populated with the prices at which fish are sold by the farms (farm-gate pricing) and market data for tilapia from several locations throughout the country.

Farm-gate and market data are collected and uploaded to the SMIS on a regular basis by fisheries officers. When new information is uploaded, the system then disseminates this data in near real-time to both registered and ad-hoc users. Registered users automatically receive market information relevant to their location of interest, while ad-hoc users must specifically request market information. This method of linking fish farmers and fishers has potential to be very effective in Ghana as the use of mobile phone technology increases.

In Uganda, AquaFish Innovation Lab researchers initiated a pilot study to evaluate the feasibility of establishing a mobile-phone system for delivering fish market data. Researchers held focus-group interviews with fish farmers in five separate regions of the country to assess the current uses of mobile phones for information transfer throughout the fish value chain, from production through the sale of the fish.

Results of the Uganda study indicate that many fish farmers currently use their mobile phones to acquire technical guidance on aquaculture and to seek information on agricultural inputs and market data from traders and other farmers. However, many farmers rely on word-of-mouth communication from extension officers, limiting the availability and flow of information.   

Fish farmers in Uganda also identified limitations to the use of mobile technology for disseminating fish market data, including poor network coverage, frequent power cuts, lack of calling credit, and lack of awareness of the service. Nevertheless, the fast growth of mobile technology and expanding connectivity holds great promise for advancing access to information.

In Kenya, AquaFish Innovation Lab researchers evaluated the feasibility of building a farmed fish marketing database into an existing network called the Enhanced Fish Marketing Information System (EFMIS) that provides market information to the capture fisheries sector.

AquaFish Innovation Lab researchers conducted a pilot study and a workshop to train fish farmers on EFMIS functionality and determined that creating a dedicated system for synthesizing daily market information on farmed fish to buyer and seller user groups would bolster the aquaculture sector in Kenya. The EFMIS has proved to be very popular among users, with the demand for services growing rapidly throughout the Lake Victoria region shortly after the system was launched. Researchers plan to integrate market prices and data for farmed fish alongside the capture fisheries market data that is currently curated and distributed through the EFMIS, further extending the benefits of this system to fish farmers throughout the country.

AquaFish Innovation Lab research in Ghana, Uganda, and Kenya has already uncovered several benefits and challenges associated with on-the-ground application of digital and mobile phone technologies. This information will allow AquaFish Innovation Lab partners and farmers to continue to share knowledge and adapt as future innovations and technologies progress in the future.