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Whatsapp Voice Notes Revolutionise Farming in Senegal

22 Aug 2023

What is happening?

In a country where nearly half of the population cannot read or write, WhatsApp's voice notes function has evolved into an essential tool for Senegalese farmers to collaborate and access information in local languages, thereby enhancing their agricultural practices and crop yields.

Ousmane Sambou, a farmer from Casamance in southern Senegal, depended on the traditional knowledge passed down from his father and village elders to sustain his livelihood. This continued until 2015, when a coworker introduced him to a local WhatsApp group. Within this group, members shared insights through voice notes, discussing the latest farming techniques and strategies for overcoming environmental challenges.

Since then, Sambou has become an active participant in six additional WhatsApp groups related to farming. He dedicates 30 minutes to three hours daily to exchanging voice messages with other members. Sambou highlighted, "We exchange our experiences and challenges, and learn about practices like organic fertilisers and how to fight pests without chemicals." WhatsApp's voice notes feature has now changed the way Sambou farms. 

What is in it for you?

In Senegal, the issue of low literacy is not only tied to education but also stems from inherent linguistic factors. Sophie Nick, a project engineer associated with Com4Dev, a social organisation focused on enhancing development through innovative communication methods, states:  “Across Africa, people function orally because the languages aren’t really written.”

Despite French being Senegal's official language, the majority of its people speak Wolof, Pulaar, or Diola, which are primarily spoken languages without writing systems. These languages also lack a phone keyboard designed to accommodate their intricacies. For our readers in Senegal, Whatsapp’s popularity has contributed to the survival and preservation of these native, spoken languages, which are more prone to extinction due to the lack of a written component. 

In 2022, when the Russia-Ukraine conflict erupted, fertiliser prices in Senegal spiked fivefold, prompting farmers to seek cheaper alternatives for food production within their network via Whatsapp voice notes. As a result, Agence Nationale de Conseil Agricole et Rural (Ancar), the Senegalese agency for agricultural advice, created detailed voice messages on the technique for a potent homemade fertiliser. The agency shared the voice notes on at least 40 WhatsApp groups.

The practice has now reached over 10,000 farmers all over Senegal, reducing their dependence on expensive fertilisers. Indeed, Binta Ba, a farmer in northwestern Senegal, revealed that the homemade fertiliser costs her a tenth of what a synthetic fertiliser would. Some farmers also reported yield increase of 30% and less crop spoilage compared to when synthetic fertiliser was used. Impressed with the technique, Ba shared it in her community WhatsApp group and organised an informal training session with local farmers.

Our readers around the globe will benefit from the lowered cost of production and improved quality of Senegalese crops. Senegal famously exports peanuts, rice and horticultural products to countries all over, notably Mali (15%), India (12%) and Switzerland (10%). 

What happens next?

Moustapha Dienne, a Senegalese smallholder, shared that WhatsApp has helped him shift to more enterprising farming. “I use it to commercialise my production and find customers,” Dienne said. “Before, I would have to walk through the village looking for buyers. Now, I put my products in my WhatsApp status, and people contact me directly.”

Whatsapp voice notes feature can therefore help connect thousands of farmers around the globe, who are no longer limited by their literacy qualification or geographical location, to exchange ideas and transform their farming practices.

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