Smartphone Apps as a new method to collect data on smallholder farming systems in the digital age: A case study from Zambia

2018 | T. Daum | H. Buchwald | A. Gerlicher | R. Birner

Published in Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, Volume 153, October 2018, Pages 144-150. Available for a limited time here.


Across the developing world, the spread of mobile- and smartphones has led to a surge in mobile services for rural populations. While the potentials of mobile services to provide development opportunities for smallholder farmers are widely acknowledged, the potentials to use smartphone applications to collect data on smallholder farming systems are little explored. Yet, researchers studying farming systems need good quality data. So far, data on smallholder farming systems is typically collected using household surveys. Survey questions are prone to recall biases, however, which can be substantial. This paper assesses whether smartphone can be used to collect data in real time and thus increase the accuracy of socioeconomic and agronomic data collection. In this paper, we present a smartphone application that was developed for this purpose. We use the application to analyze the effects of agricultural mechanization on intra-household time-use and nutrition in rural Zambia. While the early, descriptive results shed interesting light on the effects of mechanization, the contribution of this study is primarily methodological. The study highlights the potentials of using smartphone applications to collect socioeconomic and agronomic data on smallholder-farming systems, potentially in real time. It also suggests ways to combine data recorded by respondents with built-in sensors of smartphones and external sensors and thus shows fascinating new pathways for researchers in the digital age.