Category Archives: Development Projects

AppLab launched in Uganda by Grameen, Google and MTN

This Monday, 29 June 2009 turned out to be a rather momentous day for anyone interested in ICTs for development in general, and mobile content-driven information services, in particular. The Grameen Foundation announced the launch of its AppLab in Uganda, realised in collaboration with the Internet search and services giant Google and the African mobile operator giant MTN.

The press release gives details of the 5 SMS-based mobile applications launched by the project. The  initiative is introduced in detail at the Official Google Africa blog by Rachel Payne, Country Manager, Uganda. The services fall with 3 silos:

  • Google SMS Tips, featuring: caterpillar
    • Farmer’s Friend, a searchable database with both agricultural advice and targeted weather forecasts
    • Health Tips which provides sexual and reproductive health information (family planning, maternal & child health, HIV/AIDS, STI/STDs, sexuality)
    • Clinic Finder, which helps locate nearby health clinics, their services and telephone numbers
  • Google SMS Search, an SMS-based mobile serach engine more consistent with Google’s original role.
  • Google SMS  Trader, which matches buyers and sellers of agricultural produce and commodities as well as other products. The services are SMS-based and designed to work with basic mobile phones to reach the broadest possible audience.

Needless to say, I have been very excited by the news about these new services. So, I took a couple of days to process and digest it. The news has caused quite a storm in the ICT4D community. The White African comments on the participation in this intiative of prominent stakeholders:

Beyond the applications themselves, what I find most compelling is how the Grameen Foundation collected such a high-powered group of partners. The list reads like a who’s-who of innovative mobile services and development in Africa with Google, MTN Uganda, Technoserve, Kiwanja.net, and BRODSI to name a few. It’s a mixture of for-profit businesses, local NGOs and non-profit tech organizations.

I agree that this is a significant observation. It is well recognised that the implementation of successful mobile services involves the syndication of mobile operators (in this case MTN) and content providers (read Google). But the success of mobile services implemented in Africa, largely depends on their the existence of a support network on the ground. The role the project of the Grameen Foundation, its Technology Centre in Uganda and their network of Village Phone Operators (VPOs) increase the potential for adoption of the new services.

Ken Banks explains how the Google SMS Tips service was tried through an AppLab/MTN “call centre” where  quieries from the users were received and short answers of maximum 160 characters were formulated. He brings up issues related to the process of development of IT services such as information behaviour* in developing countries, proximal literacy, HCI and prototyping. With regards to Google SMS Trader, which as a mobile commerce platform is of my primary interest to me,  Ken Banks that a “whole suite of technologies on which to base solutions, including J2ME, WAP, high-end smart phones, 3G and MMS” were considered during the development process and SMS was eventually chosen. Still, I think that the involvement of Google in services such as Farmer’s Friend and Trader opens up another frontline in the rivalry between Android and Symbian. The services provided by Google SMS Tips in Uganda are consistent with those introduced by Nokia Tools in India. The respective uptake and popularity of these services might hold the key to the eventual spit of the premium mobile contant market in the developing world between Android and Symbian.

* Information behaviour meaning, “the totality of human behaviour in relation to sources and channels of information, including both active and passive information seeking and information use”, definition by Wilson 2000.

Buying and Selling on Mobile Phone: Market Women and Farmers Connect for Less

A story found at the Liberianmasthead. Written by Oona Burke, guest columnist; published on 19 June, 2009.

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry in collaboration with Geneva based NGO, International Trade Center has recently completed the test phase of “Trade At Hand”, a cell phone based system that helps connect market women to more competitive prices for the goods they buy. The cell phone based system works similarly to posting goods for sale in a newspaper advertisement or online (Craigslist, etc). Farmers around Liberia are able to advertise their goods for sale (for example, pepper) and market women on the system are then able to check their phones for all the advertisements of pepper for sale from farmers around the country that day. On the system, market women have access to offers organized by products, and are able to exchange reciprocal offers and match each other’s demands for the sale and purchase of goods.

A market woman and farmer work on Trade at Hand
A market woman and farmer work on Trade at Hand

Thus far the test group includes the training of 50 market women across several Monrovia based markets, and 50 farmers in various counties.  Market women on the project are extremely excited about the system and are anxious to expand the number of products available to buy.

Currently the system includes pepper, okra, bitter ball, cassava, plantain, greens, palm oil /nut, and several others. With some market women on the system reporting that they usually spend as much as $35 a month on scratch cards to communicate with sellers of goods, Trade at Hand, allows market women to also reduce their communication costs by viewing a larger number of offers on their telephones, for a price lower than the cost of one telephone call.

Two market women show their excitement in practicing using the system at Ma Kebbeh compound,  Red Light Market
Two market women show their excitement in practicing using the system at Ma Kebbeh compound, Red Light Market

Trade at Hand enables market women to carry out their business in a way that increases their chances of accessing better quality and better priced produce.  In turn, farmers are also enabled to better off-load their produce, and minimize produce wastage. The system also helps market women develop their price intelligence, because they have access to a variety of prices for the same products.

Once the system is tested with the pilot group of market women and farmers, it is hoped that the system can be made available to a larger number of market women and farmers.

Trade at Hand is similar to Cell Bazaar, a telephone based buying and selling system in Bangladesh, that currently has 20 million users.

Rapid Android for Collecting Market Information?

I came across an interview, prepared by Ms. Katrine Veclas from MobileActive, with Mr. Jonathan Jackson of Dimagi. The interview introduces the Rapid Android technology which offers an innovative way of configuring the back-end of SMS deployments.

Mr. Jonathan Jackson, summarises the currently available deployment options as including deployments via international SMS gateways and localised deployments. Under the first option the deployment path consists of: 1) clients sending SMS to an international phone number 2) messages are transferred to an international SMS gateway 3) message go through the Internet to a Web server 4) client machines are able to access the Web server through the Internet to view the data.

marketAlertsThis deployment option is great for large scale applications. In the area of dissemination and collection of mobile market information, I am aware of ITC’s Trade at Hand using similar deployment paths for the delivery of Market Alerts from trade support institutions to networks of exporters, and for the collection and analysis of local market information under the mCollect project.

ccpmp1The second deployment option mentioned by Mr. Jonathan Jackson includes 1) local server connected to a phone, being able to talk to local clients and 2) client machines hitting the local server directly, or through the Internet. Small deployments are viable under this option. But deployments are subject to the hazards of thier small scale. Even small problems with the systems can become critical because they require specialised engineering skills. Such deployments are at risk of losing users’ interest when qualified support is not available on the ground. A market oriented project which might fall under this category is the Cambodia Crop Production and Marketing Project (CCPMP).

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The Rapid Android technology presented my Mr. Jonathan Jackson allows for the use of Android phones not only as SMS clients, but also as back-end servers. This dual use greatly simplifies the equipment needs and the skill needs for the deployment of SMS solutions. It also allows for immediate analysis of incoming data in real time.

For the sector of mobile market information systems, Rapid Android presents enhanced SMS broadcasting and data collection opportunities. With the future developments of Rapid Android outlined by Mr. Jonathan Jackson under wasy, Rapid Android presents the opportunity to develop more resilient and extensive market infromation collection networks. Even though the benefits of broadcasting up-to-date market informatiton to farmers in remote areas have been widely recognised. I think more efforts are needed to improve the market information generation process and to ensure the quality of the information. So far the accuracy of the collected information is largely due to the skills and experience of market ennumerators based out in the field. The transformation, analysis and response to this information is tends to be removed at central head offices and headquarters. With the availability of technologies similar to Rapid Android, the opportunity of relocating the analysis closer to the source of the data opens up.

Collaboration@Rural in South Africa

Collaboration and Rural (C@R) is an EU project aimed at enabling the participation of European rural dwellers in the knowledge society. The methodology of the project involves the testing new technologies developed by the C@R consotium within 7 Living Labs, including the Sekhukhune Living Lab in South Africa.

Below is a video material presenting the technology developed by SAP to the benefit of SMEs and micro enterprises, within the C@R project. The featured procurement technology is focused on realising benefits through the aggregation of rural demand for manufactured goods andprocessed foodstuffs. The savings are realised due to the lower prices, achieved by a coallition of buyers who manage to order together greater quantities via mobile communication.

The main beneficiaries of the system are Spaza shops which are scattered all over the area and ensure the supply to the rural community of bread and other items such as soap, detergent, clothes etc. Stock replendishment is a challenge to Spaza shop owners because goods need to be sourced from the nearest town, which involves a transportation cost and the opportunity cost of day’s work. Ms. Sesina Mabuza, a Spaza shop owner recounts the financial constraints she faces in re-stocking her shop. Ms. Christina Zikhali, a Spaza shop owner in a very remote village explains the variability of the transportation costs incurred by using shared taxi services.

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Consistent with New Institutional Economics, C@R seeks to reduce transaction costs through vertical integration. The system implemented by SAP facilitates the establishment of virtual buying cooperatives, consisting of a number of Spaza shops and coordinated by local information service providers, known as “nfopreneurs”. The video presents the example of bread supply. Retail shop owners are enabled to order the bread they need via SMS. The messages retailers send to the “infopreneurs” consist of the name of their shop, a PIN number verifying their identity, the amount they are ordering and the code of the product. The SMS messages are aggregated by the “infopreneurs”, they are bundled and transmitted to the suppliers of the product. The system is of benefit to the suppliers by allowing them higher visibility of the market for their product. Mr. Hansie du Plessis, Manager of Tubatse Bakery in Sasko testifies to the benefit to suppliers. The savings realised are used for the delivery of the products to the Spaza shops.

The video suggests that in the future the entire basket of items carried by Spaza shops might be available through the C@R procurement system implemented by SAP in the Sekhukhune Living Lab. I think that this is a truely exciting prospect.

Warehouse Receipt Systems

Here is a very informative educational documentary on Warehouse Receipt Systems produced by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACO-EU (CTA), Agence Français de Développementé (AFD) and the Natural Resources Institute (NRI).

The film documents a study visit to Tanzania and South Africa. Even though the film provides plenty of useful information, its authors make sure to note:

“The examples presented in these two countries are typified by particular experiments and contexts and cannot simply be transposed to other cases. Nonetheless there are a great number of lessons to be learnt and which could provide guidancefor certain aspects of orientation and initiatives in your respective countries.”

I personally think that the documentary illustrates theoretical issues which are encountered the world over, and are not specific to any particular context. The film raises questions regarding trust, confidence, contractual completeness, regulation, product quality and standardisation. Even though in this documentary the issues emerge with regards to warehouse receipt systems, they are intrinsic characteristics of any market negotiations (and eventual transactions) taking place without the double coincidence of time and place. The film focuses on futures markets i.e. transactions without coinsidence in time. Conversely, market negotiations carried out via mobile phones, or other ICTs exemplify transactions without coinsidene in place.


Warehouse receipt systems were developed in the 1990s as a response to farmers’ income instability due to price fluctuations resulting from liberalisation. Since prices tend to be low during harvest periods and to subsequently rise, warehouse reeipt systems provide a solution by storing commodities for the suration of the low price season. Price volatility and lack of quality standards are attributed to market liberalisation in the agricultural sector.

Warehouse receipt systems operationalise the food supply chain and involve the following stakehoders:

  • farmers (individuals or cooperatives)
  • warehouse operators
  • financial institutions
  • exporters, traders

Tanzania

The warehouse receipt system was introduced in Tanzania in 2005 with the pilot crops of coffee and cotton. It enables farmers to receive loans and assure the quality of their produce. The system allows coffee producers (individuals or cooperatives) to store their coffee in a silo. Upon the receipt of the coffee the producers are issued with 2 certificates: certificate of title for them to keep and certificate of pledge to provide to third parties. These are normally cooperative or commercial banks participating in the system. The certificates of deposit allow farmers to induce confidence in the financial institutions. They also enable the banks to reach a new set of customers for financial services.

The warehouses also ensure the transparency of the commodity marketing system. Commodities are classified according to quality and offered for sale at regional and sub-regional markets. For example, coffee is graded and offered for sale at auctions administered by a public organisation.

Producers in other sectors, such as the Chawampu rice growers cooperative, have followed suit. Representatives of the cooperative introduce a model whereby they are able to offer 70% of market value of deposited quantities of rice. Subsequently, after selling the crop and substracting the administrative costs the cooperative, they provide a second payment to the members of the cooperative. Farmers use any additional income in order to buy seeds, fertilizer and to develop off-season activities.

The warehouse receipt systems functions well due to the high price differentials between the post-harvest season and the hungry season. The main challenges to the warehouse receipt system remain:

  • providing adequate infrastructure
  • ensuring warehouse security
  • reinforcing producers’ organisations
  • increasing the number of quality control specialists
  • reducing operating costs

South Africa

South Africa presents an advanced example based on the warehouse weceipt system because it has a functioning futures market in agricultural commodities. The SAFEX was established in the 1990s during an intense period of market liberalisation.

The advantages of South Africa include its good financial infrastructure for the settlement of deals and the quality of  its physical infrastructure enabling the trading, warehousing and transportation of the commodities. Critical is the legal enforcability of contractual rights and of legal receipt rights. Thereby, people are able to take the necessary steps and to manage their post-harvest risk well in advance.

SAGIS acts as an information intermediary for the South African commodity markets. It collects and distributes local consumption and up-to-date market information. The agricultural marketing giant SENWES provides mobile phone access to hourly prices of grain via SMS. Even though it is not typical of Africa in favouring large scale farmers, the South African warehouse receipt experience provides a useful benchmark for implementations elsewhere.

Evaluating the Use of Mobile Phones for Access to Price Information in Ghana

Here is an interview with Mohammed Mounouni of SAND, Ghana recoreded on 19 March 2009. He reflects on the monitoring and impact evaluation of the use of mobile market information services such as the services TradeNet and Esoko implemented via the MISTOWA project. Mr. Mounouni hopes new developments in the Esoko platform will make farmer’s feedback easier and suggests they should not pay credit time when they do so. Mr. Mounouni emphasises the importance of fieldwork with African farmers, investigating their use of market information.

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Having researched invormation behaviour, I agree particularly strongly with this point. With the current surge in the development of mobile Intenet services I think it is essential that forthcoming ICT4D projects are needs-based and take into account information use. Otherwise, the development community is in danger of proliferating technology for its own sake.

In another interview available through the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) blog the software developer David McCann of Busylab, Ghana introduces the new Esoko platform which builds on the efforts dedicated to the implementation of the TradeNet Web based platform. The Esoko technology includes an SMS gateway with a centralised computing power in combination with an extendable mobile application.

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Tajik Agro-Processing Company Wins Online2Export Website Competition

Few Tajik enterprises have a website, especially in the agro-processing sector: lack of resources is the most commonly named explanation, followed by low awareness of the benefits of a professional web presence. As ITC is promoting the development of e-business in the Tajik agro-business sector, it was decided to support the development of three websites for companies, to serve as role models and showcase best practice.

This activity was undertaken in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Tajikistan (TPP). Three web-design agencies were contracted to implement this activity: ANKO Web Design, Caftar and Promotion. Tajikistan has a small base of companies in this area, but it has been growing in the last 12 months.

The three websites were developed at the beginning of 2009. The creative process required a close partnership between the beneficiary SMEs and the agencies, which needed feedback on design and architecture, as well as text and pictures on the content side. The sites were developed in Russian only, as the CIS is the main destination market for Tajik agro-processed goods. Search engine optimization was to be undertaken accordingly on rambler.ru, yandex.ru and google.ru, the leading engines in this region. To allow for easy updates, the sites were built on the basis of a CMS, a web content management system. As a result, updates do not require the involvement of IT experts.

Once finalized, the websites were submitted to ITC’s Online2Export group of international experts. They assessed the sites and voted for the best one through an online survey tool. Elita was designated as the best website, based on its usability, content and search engine optimization. Pulod Amirbekov, General Manager of Promotion, welcomed the designation and hoped that the competition result would get other Tajik companies to opt for a website – using local expertise.

via ITC Enterprise Competitiveness Newsletter.

Cultural Exchange and Export of Digital Content

The increased availability of ICTs in Africa provides opportuities for their adoption in the process of art creation and in the marketing of unique handcrafted products to large audiences. The increased opportunities for cultural exchange and for export of digital content raise questions regarding the licensing of art products and their copyright.

At the Africa Gathering which took place in London on April, 25th 2009, Martin Konzett from ICT4D.at (Austria) presented the trailer for the upcoming film release “Hello Africa”. The movie is a documentary which sets out to illustrate the ongoing phenomenon of constantly increasing mobile phone use in Africa in general, and Zanzibar in particular. The film documents how the mobile boom is changing traditional attitudes, cultural values and social patterns.

The documentary captures contemporary, everyday life in Africa. It presents the lifestyles of African people, the concepts used in their popular culture, their habits, opinions and activities in the context of mobile technology use. “Hello Africa” portraits individuals from various social groups: students, rappers, teachers, athletes, vendors, watchmen and many more. The forthcoming release date for the documentary is May, 8th 2009. The interest in “Hello Africa” even prior to its release is an example of the opportunities offered by ICTs for cultural exchange between Africa and the rest of the world. The film will be licensed under a Creative Commons license BY-SA. This means that all of the raw material as well as the final edit of the film will be available for anyone to copy, share, remix and sample under the license condition.

itc-tech-paper-trade-in-soundsThe increased opportunities for cultural exchange and for export of digital content prompted the International Trade Centre (ITC) to published in February 2009 the technical report “Trade in Sounds”. The report considers the potential of digital content, particularly music, to generate export revenues for developing countries and to encourage the online distribution of music from developing countries. The report uses the OECD definition of digital content as the “digital delivery of content, specifically, scientific publishing, music, on-line computer games, mobile content, user-created content and public sector information and content”.

“Trade in Sounds” presents ITC’s findings on the topic of international trade in digital music. The subject matter is introduced by a chapter on market trends and challenges. The report continues by overviewing methods and techniques which can be used successfully for the distribution of digital content via the electronic channel. Because of its commercial character and its impact on music trade, traditional copyright, rather than Creative Commons licensing, is enphasised in the report. “Trade in Sounds” includes detailed case studies of the existing opportunities for export of digital music content by the music industries in Brazil, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Senegal, Serbia and Tajikistan.

kachile481Another recent initiative aimed at an increase in the exchange of visual art products between West Africa and the rest of the world is the project Kachile led by Ulf Richter in the Ivory Coast. Kachile seeks to create digital opportunities for artists in West Africa by enabling them to sell products in the following categories: accessoires, african art, ceramics, fashion, furniture, jewlery, music, textiles, toys, etc. The categories in the Kachile marketplace are still in the process of being populated. Nonetheless, the project carries the promise of creating an electronic marketplace for African products of visual art and music.

Impact of ICTs on Welfare: Evidence from Uganda

Recently I have come across some resources about the broad-based impact of access to ICTs on the welfare of people in Uganda. The materials below demonstrate not so much the use and development of mobile (or electronic) market services, but they demonstrate the general point about the impact of communication on businesses and individual livelihoods in Uganda. So, do have a look at the video! It shows the users of the telecentres in Nakaseke and Kasambya. Nakaseke is a larger and economically more active community with a busy marketplace, while Kasambya is a rural location. The video shows Margaret Nawoga, a farmer who grows plantain, coffee and vegetables and uses the telecentre for access to cultivation literature. The video also shows the proprietor of a small harware and bicycle repair business who uses the fax, photocopying and telephone facilities in the Nakaseke telecentre in order to arrange the purchase and delivery of spare bicycle parts. The video has been available since Feb 2007 so the information is hardly up-to-date. Do you have information about Uganda along similar lines? Please, do share it. muto-2008

Demonstrating the same general point in a much more rigorous way is an article by Megumi Muto. It analyses the effect of the expansion of mobile phone networks in Uganda on market participation.  The work uses survey data collected in 2003 and 2005 from 856 households in 94 communities. The study compares the effects of the increased access to mobile networks on the marketing of maize and of bananas.  Megumi Muto establishes that the proportion of banana farmers who sell their produce, rather than consume it themselves, raised from 50% in 2003 to 69% in 2005. By contrast, the marketing of maize as opposed to its subsistance use did not change over the same period. The difference in the impact of mobile phone network expansion on the marketing of maize and banana is explained by the perishable nature of the banana products. As mobile phone coverage increased from 2003 to 2005, the sensitivity of the price of bananas to information was reduced, thereby reducing the price differential between farm-gate and market prices for bananas. Below is a map showing the progress of mobile phone coverage in Uganda between 2003 and 2005.

muto-mob-map

Trade at Hand for Liberia’s Market Women

ITC Press Release
ITC Press Release

On 26 Feb 2009 the International Trade Centre (ITC) in Geneva announced the delivery of the project “Trade at Hand for Liberia’s Market Women,” funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland.  The project is continuation of ITC’s Trade at Hand programme which has been operational since 2006 and focuses on the use of mobile technology for the delivery of agricultural market information.

“Trade at Hand for Liberia’s Market Women” delivers to its end users a service of the participatory type, requiring from end users the contribution of content. The service collects from agricultural producers in rural areas information regarding the availability, location and price sought for different agricultural products. This information is delivered via GPRS to consumers and traders in predominantly urban areas.  The market information service deployed by ITC in Liberia is characterised by the Mr Raphael Dard, the manager of the project, as a  Liberian national “mobile marketplace”  and a seed of a sub-regional one. Trade at Hand facilitates the search process of both, producers and consumers. Using the service buyers and sellers of agricultural products are able to identify an interested party at the opposite side of the market. As a “business matching information service” the Trade at Hand service deployed in Liberia is an innovative within the Trade at Hand framework. Prior Trade at Hand efforts have included the delivery mechanism, rather than the content generation. These include the delivery of international market price information, and the delivery of market alerts to end users in Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Mozambque.

tah_leaflet_1tah_leaflet

The Trade at Hand poject in Liberia was realised in conjunction with ITC’s Liberia Export Development Project (LEDP). LEDP has developed a network of extension workers and enabled the delivery of comprehensive agricultural extension services within the country. Through its extension network LEDP has encouraged the production of export-oriented agricultural products such as spices (e.g. African bird-eye chilli pepper), coffee and cocoa. This network facilitated the initial deployment of the Trade at Hand mobile market information system in LIberia. During the deployment process extension workers took part in the process of training  and subscribing 100 users of the system. These users included market women and rural farmers.