Farmers who use WhatsApp in their businesses, and who own older smartphone models, should double check that the app will continue to be supported on their devices come 1 November.
Farmers using Android devices running on the Android 4.0 operating system and older, and iPhones that run on iOS 9 or older, now have less than one month until WhatsApp ceases to be supported on their devices. A total of 43 older phone models currently able to run the app, will be affected.
The soon-to-be unsupported devices include the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, Samsung Galaxy Trend II, Samsung Galaxy Trend Lite, Samsung Galaxy Core, Samsung Galaxy Ace 2, LG Optimus F7, LG Optimus F5, LG Optimus L3, LG Optimus II Dual, LG Optimus F7 II, LG Optimus F5 II, Sony Xperia, Huawei Ascend Mate, Huawei Ascend D2, Apple iPhone SE, Apple iPhone 6S and Apple iPhone 6S Plus.
WhatsApp crucial for small farming operations
Dr Sifiso Ntombela, chief economist at the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC), highlights the important role that WhatsApp plays in farming operations these days. He says that any changes that will inhibit users from accessing the app, will not only affect most farmers’ ability to communicate and to receive information, but will also keep them from opportunities, cripple their growth and affect their survival.
“Most farmers are involved in and are part of WhatsApp groups… to make communication and the sharing of information amongst themselves much easier; not only information that deals with markets [and] production tips but most of our farmers are sitting in rural areas where safety is a big issue.
“If there are any changes on WhatsApp, or access is limited, it will only add to the [financial] impact that they already [felt through the pandemic and other economic factors]. It will be more difficult for them to access information at a speed that can help them build their businesses.”
Small-scale farmers once again worst affected
Ntombela tells Food For Mansi that, even though all farmers might be severely impacted by this change, small-scale farmers will experience yet another barrier – this time in communication – and be impacted the most.
“There are small-scale farmers who cannot afford new devices.
“It will minimise their conversations with their peers, which will only mean that they are excluded from accessing information. [It] is already a major problem in the agricultural space, especially for the younger farmers getting in.”
According to Ntombela, farmers will be at pains to sell their products as many producers use WhatsApp as a marketing tool. “We call such farmers online farmers nowadays, and they use it as… a marketing platform. It is affordable. But if they don’t have access to WhatsApp, that too will end for some of them.”
WhatsApp has also made it much easier to obtain and share important documents, such as application forms for new grants and funding streams, which would otherwise have been difficult to do. “Some [farmers] don’t have that infrastructure, or they don’t have enough time to sit in front of a laptop or computer to access email or documents because they are always busy on the farm,” says Ntombela.
Another critical area of information sharing on WhatsApp is around biosecurity, says Ntombela. “If there is a need to be assisted with a certain outbreak, [farmers] are able to get assistance through WhatsApp.
“We know there is currently an outbreak of rabies around the country, especially in the coastal areas, and they are able to share that information sheets quickly amongst themselves through the WhatsApp application.”
Ntombela says changes that will inhibit farmers’ ability to continue using WhatsApp will make their lives considerably more difficult, so they are urged to double check whether their phones will still support the app, to switch to another device or save their chat history before the deadline if support will stop, and to check with a service provider that a phone they plan to purchase will be supported.
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.