I remember one time I was asked to walk 10 kilometers away from home to find a local buyer to sell our marakuja and papaya fruit so that my parents could pay my school fees. This buyer in turn walked 10 kilometers to sell the fruit in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. There were no mobile phones to call each other; there was no other option but to walk these distances. In our village if anyone needed to use pesticide in their coffee plantation, they had to go house-by-house to find a pumping machine. As you can imagine, it would take a long time to ask the whole village.
Nowadays, I feel blessed that I can automatically open my smartphone to check new messages and chat with a group of young farmers on WhatsApp. Actually, these farmers are what I call “the hope for tomorrow.” When I access the WhatsApp group, I can always see how different exchanges are shared like new conversations, new pictures of distant farms, new farming videos, and new farming technique documents as well as notices from the Ministry of Agriculture and other agricultural agencies. I start my day with this “breakfast” and this way, I can start my work full of commitment to these inspiring young farmers.
There are around 250 brilliant, committed, skillful and professional farmers, who form part of a platform that is supported by the Youth Engagement in Agriculture Network (YEAN), a Partner in GFAR. This organization shares agriculture information and allows for agricultural extension services to be provided to these young farmers. I would like to congratulate YEAN for bringing together “the hope for tomorrow”, this generation from an already demographically young country. With the YEAN platform, information is shared digitally on how to grow crop, how to buy or sell products, and even how to import or export agriculture products. It is an easy and smart way of connecting farmers to other farmers, and to buyers and policy makers.
Social media is heavily influencing this new generation of professional farmers; a friend of mine actually bought new papaya seeds from Brazil thanks to support from the WhatsApp group and another young lady also managed to start a duck farm this way. I can just imagine how proud these young people must feel of their agricultural initiatives. It gives me hope that Africa will be able to feed 4 billion by the year 2100.
YEAN’s mission is to spread agricultural information and facts to the community, especial young agripreneurs, aiming to inspire change. Experiences can shared among farmers and even from experts to motivate “youth in leading the change in Agriculture and skills development that improves the living conditions of farmers for sustainable development.”
The YEAN WhatsApp group, with its over 250 participants, is one of the strategies used to disseminate information to their beneficiaries and the whole community. It is a powerful weapon and can help YEAN as an agriculture extension agency for the Rwandan community meet its goals.
How can YEAN’s WhatsApp group really help Rwandan farmers?
Millions of people worldwide are using WhatsApp on their smartphones as it is an easy way of sending and receiving information. It only takes a few minutes for people to check new messages received. In 2014, YEAN took advantage of this easy way to quickly reach farmers and created a Whatsapp group, which brought together young farmers, professional farmers, agricultural specialists, agricultural technicians, and agricultural engineers. It fits right into the YEAN mission, that is “spread agriculture information and facts to the community to inspire change for the pursuit of beauty and excellence in young agripreneurs and the community.” The platform is helping farmers to quickly exchange ideas and obtain help for their farms. Pictures, short movies, and audio messages can be shared real-time to show what is taking place on the farms. Farmers are no longer isolated, without access to information due to the remote location of their farms. Now, they just drop a message and share what they are doing. If they are facing, other farmers or even agronomists are ready to help remotely.
When I look carefully as a participant at how this group works, I do not hesitate to say that this method is successful. It is accurate, easy, workable, cheap, fast, reliable, and very simple. And again, it has also had a significant role in transforming agriculture in Rwanda. Ideas in the WhatsApp group are shared and then openly discussed. Each member has the right to express his/her ideas according to the experience from his/her farm.
This group has had incredible success according to the discussion forum “UBUHINZI BWACU”, which is Kinyarwanda for “Our Farming Story.” This amazing weekly discussion event is open on all YEAN social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp) every Sunday from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM. In the WhatsApp group, remarkable conversations and ideas appear, and members are free to extensively debate any given topic. The discussions motivate members to remain engaged and exchange ideas. One day after the discussion, the summary is made available on the YEAN official website and they can be further shared on different social media, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. The discussion is purely in Kinyarwanda (Rwanda’s national language), which not only makes it more enjoyable but also more technically and comprehensively suitable to local farmers.
I really enjoy farming stories and I hope you keep enjoying them with me. If you are reading this blog and are a participant of the WhatsApp group, I just want to say Kudos to you! Your cool agricultural ideas matter.
This is an adapted version of a blog post published by YEAN on 2 December 2016. YEAN is a Partner in GFAR. For more information on the Partners in GFAR, and to become a Partner, visit the GFAR website!