WhatsApp voice messages are transforming agriculture in Senegal

WhatsApp voice messages are transforming agriculture in Senegal

WhatsApp voice messages have revolutionized the agricultural industry in Senegal, particularly for farmers who face literacy challenges. Through the use of voice notes, farmers like Ousmane Sambou from Casamance have gained access to a world of collaboration within the farming community. Sambou, who previously relied on traditional knowledge passed down from his father and village elders, now actively participates in multiple WhatsApp groups dedicated to farming. These groups serve as platforms for exchanging voice notes where members share farming practices, tips for overcoming environmental challenges, and information on organic fertilizers and pest control methods. WhatsApp’s voice note feature has fundamentally transformed Sambou’s farming practices.

With nearly half of Senegal’s population lacking reading and writing skills, WhatsApp voice notes have become an essential tool for farmers to collaborate and access valuable information in local languages. According to a study monitoring 15 WhatsApp groups between May 29 and June 2, 2023, these voice notes enable farmers to enhance their agricultural production. Sophie Nick, a project engineer at Com4Dev, explained that low literacy levels in Senegal stem not only from educational issues but also from the intrinsic nature of oral languages spoken in the country, such as Wolof, Pulaar, and Diola. These languages lack a written form and do not have phone keyboards optimized for their intricacies.

Among the various WhatsApp groups, Sambou finds one particularly beneficial. Comprising nearly 50 members, the group discusses diverse farming practices, provides weather updates, and shares information about training sessions. This group is part of a broader network of 32 other groups across Senegal, connecting farmers with agricultural advisors, researchers, and local NGO representatives. WhatsApp serves as the primary mode of communication for these farmers, allowing them to quickly access information and foster innovation.

Considering the limited availability of agricultural advisors in Senegal, which currently stands at approximately one advisor per 10,000 farmers, researcher RaphaŽl Belmin suggests that WhatsApp voice notes could help bridge the gaps in training and education within the country’s agricultural sector.

The use of voice notes became particularly effective for Senegalese farmers in 2022 during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which led to a substantial increase in fertilizer prices. In response, farmers used WhatsApp voice notes to discuss alternative, more affordable fertilizers within their network of groups.

The Senegalese agency for agricultural advice, Agence Nationale de Conseil Agricole et Rural (Ancar), also leveraged WhatsApp voice notes by sharing detailed messages about a potent homemade fertilizer technique developed by Latin American researcher Jairo Restrepo Rivera. These voice notes were disseminated through at least 40 WhatsApp groups, reaching over 10,000 farmers in Senegal. The technique, which costs significantly less than synthetic fertilizers, has shown promising results, including increased yields and reduced crop spoilage.

Farmers like Binta Ba and Aristide Diatta actively utilize WhatsApp to share valuable agricultural techniques and connect with potential customers. In addition to overcoming the challenges of unreliable signals in rural areas, WhatsApp’s voice notes have allowed farmers to embrace more entrepreneurial approaches to farming, facilitating commercialization of their produce.

Overall, the adoption of WhatsApp voice notes has had a profound impact on the agricultural landscape in Senegal. By providing a platform for collaboration, information exchange, and language accessibility, this technology has empowered farmers to enhance their practices, address challenges, and improve their livelihoods.