Farmers are beginning to reap the benefits of the rapid growth in mobile phone use in Myanmar through apps that are providing them with a wealth of information.
By SING LEE | FRONTIER
KO THEIN SOE MIN was inspired to develop an app for farmers to link them to agricultural specialists after working for Relief International in Rakhine State from 2014 to 2015.
“When the farmers encountered an issue, they used to call me directly. We [NGO staff] were not always available, and sometimes we needed to contact someone else who had expertise in the solving their problem,” recalled Thein Soe Min, the co-founder and general manager of Greenovator.
The app, Green Way, which enables farmers to contact specialists and ask them questions, was launched in May 2016.
It’s not the only app that is making life easier for farmers by providing them with information to increase productivity and improve livelihoods.
A promotional event in southern Shan State for the Green Way app. (Supplied)
Mr Erwin Sikma, who is from the Netherlands and has lived in Myanmar since 2013, quit his job with a business consultancy and founded Impact Terra, a social enterprise that developed Golden Paddy (Shwe Thee Hnan in Myanmar), an online platform with an app, website and Facebook page, in December 2016.
Amid the explosion of mobile connectivity and upgrades to highways and other infrastructure, farmers are yet to benefit significantly from being able to access online information, Sikma told Frontier. “It is a revolution from no connectivity to full connectivity, yet there [was] no service for the farmer,” he said.
When the telecommunications market in Myanmar opened to competition in 2014 mobile penetration was about 10 percent. It has since soared to 93 percent, says the Digital in 2017 World Overview report by social marketing firms, We Are Social and Hootsuite.
Global market research firm International Data Corporation says that in the third quarter of 2016, 80 percent of the mobile phones imported by Myanmar people were smartphones.
Although there is no known data on smartphone distribution, leaving the penetration in rural areas unknown, Thein Soe Min and Sikma say smartphone use is common among farmers who grow crops, such as paddy.
Cost is not much of an issue. Thein Soe Min says a mobile phone with limited capabilities, known as a feature phone, can cost up to K30,000, but basic smartphones costs about K40,000, making them affordable to even the low-income households.
Thein Soe Min noticed when he travelled to countries such as India, that farmers there tended to use feature phones. “Myanmar people go straight to smartphones; some farmers even find feature phones more difficult to use, like the navigation, the buttons,” he told Frontier.
Green Way has 42,000 registered users and is expected to grow to 100,000 farmers by the end of the year; it is used by farmers in 323 of the nation’s 330 townships, says Thein Soe Min.
Greenovator cofounder and general manager Ko Thein Soe Min shows off the company's Green Way app. (Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier)
“When we trained farmers in the Dry Zone, 48 people in a class of 50 had a smartphone,” said Ma Yin Yin Phyu, co-founder and business development manager of Greenovator, who previously worked for the Food Security Working Group in Yangon.