Weekly Review July 25-29

This week we reviewed how mobile commerce can help rural African farmers rise out of poverty.

Our portfolio company, Slimtrader, has partnered with Notore, “an agro-allied and chemical company ….supporting local food production.” Together, they’re piloting SlimTrader’s mobile commerce platform, MoBiashara. MoBiashara allows farmers to check Notore inventory and purchase Notore products with simple SMS text messages. This is mutually beneficial for both the farmer and Notore, the farming supply provider. SlimTrader is publishing a series of blog posts to document their pilot. Currently, SlimTrader CMO Betty is leading the demonstration and implementation of MoBiashara in Nigeria amongst rural farmers. The following video demonstrates how the MoBiashara and Notore pilot works.

In addition to SlimTrader’s mobile commerce platform pilot targeting rural farmers, other organizations are promoting “mobile-based financial innovations designed to empower Africa out of poverty.” KickStart has started a program in Kenya that “allows entrepreneurial farmers to buy their products through a [SMS] text.” The money is transferred through M-Pesa via a secure shortcode. Farmers can pay off irrigation systems in convenient increments rather than paying for them all at once, which is usually impossible for BoP farmers. “The system lets buyers set aside small money amounts into an electronic bank” which acts as a secure savings environment.  Mobile commerce and mobile money applications are common throughout Africa and bring farmers out of the “poverty trap.”

Android Phones Help Poor Farmers in Uganda” by Nancy Gohring, IDG News via PC World
Earlier this year, we wrote a post called “How App Developers Can Change the World,” highlighting the power and impact that smartphones could have in rural villages in underdeveloped countries. Now, the Grameen Foundation Technology Center is developing a scheme that allows “community knowledge workers” in Uganda to use “Android phones loaded with an open-source data-collection software that feeds data into Salesforce.” This empowers rural Ugandan farmers by granting them access to valuable information about market prices, weather reports, and planting advice. Grameen selects a few local farmers to become community knowledge workers, and offers them a loan to buy the Android phone. They then have access to and the power to share information about crops or farm animals. The community knowledge workers also collect data about crops and farm animals from the local farmers and enter it into the phone, which Grameen pays them to do. Grameen is using a Huwaei built Android Ideos with comparatively good battery life serviced by MTN Uganda. While many question why Grameen does not use a basic feature phone, Grameen foresees dropping Android prices and argues that the open source model allows them to use their own developers. This model also creates value beyond that in the village by collecting valuable data. “Organizations including the World Bank, Heifer International and others are paying Grameen for data that the knowledge workers collect by conducting surveys with the villagers.” These organizations are also seeking geographic data and photos, which the Android enables. So far, “the workers have interacted with 24, 000 households,” and many farmers are using the information to improve their farms.

This article also discusses the Grameen Foundation’s community knowledge workers scheme in Uganda. Killian Fox visited the Gulu District in Uganda to visit one of Grameen’s community knowledge workers, a farmer named Simon Obwoya. Obwoya shares both the trials and tribulations of relying on an Android for farming information. Obwoya struggles to charge his phone, doing everything from riding his stationary bicycle to eventually visiting a local battery trading station. With his Android phone, he has registered over 300 farmers, and has exchanged data with all of them. These farmers have received many benefits. Using the information he found on his Android, Obwoya forewarned the farmers of a long anticipated drought for this year, prompting many farmers to “take their time before putting down their seeds,” saving seeds, time, and money. This is a simple example of how access to information through mobile phones can improve the lives of the world’s poorest citizens. 

In addition to serving as a business tool for rural farmers, mobile phones can be a teaching tool as well. The University of Illinois launched a project called Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO) that “produces educational videos that can be downloaded to cell phone [with the goal…] to help people in developing countries improve their lives.”  The animated videos feature a native narrator to reach the targeted rural African farmers. The videos are available in “eighty languages, dialects, and accents.” The videos explain a variety of farming tips and practices, like how to protect crops by making and using a natural insecticide. A sample video from SAWBO is below.
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