App helps rural farmers

The African Conservation Trust, a 14-year-old not-for-profit organisation, developed an Android app and online database used by impoverished communities in deep rural areas to improve food security.

Called the GigaBite Guardian, it was motivated by the realisation that “fences are only as good as the quality of life of the people living alongside nature reserves”, says Francois du Toit, chief executive of the trust.

Impoverished communities living in far-flung rural areas that are often the last haven of threatened wildlife species face huge challenges. They are also extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

One way of creating resilience for the communities is to help them grow crops to feed their families, with enough surplus to sell on to other markets. The plan is not new, but many of these projects fail after the first harvest due to inadequate access to markets to sell surplus produce.

“Guardian of the soil, the seeds and the community,” explains Du Toit, enables growers to link to each other, price their goods and market them.

The African Conservation Trust provides training to community members, who go out armed with a tablet and record GPS co-ordinates for participants, take photographs of their crops and store the information on the database.

They then show them, through a link to the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market, what the value of their growing crop is likely to be.

The tablet is also used as a learning tool, says Du Toit, with tips on how to make a compost heap, how to save seed, how to build a swale and other relevant information.

The app is developing informal markets among its network of participants and selling their produce relatively close to where it is grown, which has benefits in terms of reduced transport, reduced packaging and enhanced nutrition.

As more growers participate and become organised, they will be able to ensure steady supply and negotiate terms with more formal markets.

“Our goal is to put a million people on the database,” says Du Toit. “There are endless possibilities for the app, and it is proving to be unbelievably useful.”

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