If we are to feed a world population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050, research and development that has brought great gains in wealthy countries must be spread to the developing world.

Current agricultural extension systems – which often involve a government extension worker visiting farms on a motorbike – are in decline and not up to the scale of the challenge. Globally, the number of small-scale farmers stands at 2.6 billion, while the number of extension workers has decreased. At the same time, demand for information is increasing.

In sub-Saharan Africa the penetration rate for mobile phones reached 50% in 2010, with 342.6 million subscriptions. This offers huge potential. Mobile phones greatly reduce the cost of information, and allow farmers to access new information quickly and effectively. Mobiles also allow farmers to become contributors as well as receivers of information, replacing traditional linear communication with a feedback model that allows traditional knowledge to be combined with the latest scientific advice.

The case study showcases the Lifelong Learning for Farmers Programme in Uganda. The programme has enabled more than 1,000 farmers in Kabale to share, contribute and receive information via the latest mobile technology, and empowers them to learn in a self-directed way, solve problems of marketing and food security for themselves, improve their living conditions, and become less dependent on government support.

The brief also recommends ways that such businesses can best be developed and scaled-up so that they are sustainable and self-supporting over the long-term.