Category Archives: Service Design

Posts related to the design of mobile market services.

Top 10 mobile agriculture applications

via IT News Africa- Africa’s Technology News Leader. Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor

The iCow platform has a series of dairy agri products that are available over a simple menu system (Image source: iCow)

In reporting from the ICT4Ag conference in Kigali, Rwanda, IT News Africa features the following apps as the best for agriculture in Africa. Consider the descriptions provided by IT News Africa, as well as short comments I offer. Please cast YOUR VOTE!

1. iCow

The iCow platform has a series of dairy agri products that are available over a simple menu system. Farmers dial a short code, *285#, and access a simple menu that guides them on how to subscribe to the various products. After subscribing, the system sends messages to users at intervals – depending on the product choice. iCow’s objective is to increase farmer productivity through access to knowledge and experts and to encourage the development of a younger generation of farmers.

>>I understand that iCow’s content products are advisories. From my work with extension agents in Ghana, I am largely skeptical of SMS messages being able to convey the complexity of agriculture advisories.

2. Rural eMarket

Developed for rural Africa, Rural eMarket is a simple yet powerful solution to communicate market information, using smartphones, tablets or computers. Rural eMarket is multi-lingual, easy, quick to adopt, and most of all, affordable for most rural projects. The use of appropriate ICT solutions can improve transparency and access to market information and transform the livelihoods of rural populations. However, there are many regions in Africa that do not benefit from these new technologies because of illiteracy, the weakness of connectivity or the inability to find an affordable and adapted solution.

>>The concept of using mobile for improving the transparency of agricultural value chains in Africa is not new. In fact it is what inspired me to start this blog years ago. Yet, I think it remains very ambitious goal to realize by offering content services for farmers at the retail level. The structural constraints to trade, other than information, remain the limiting factor!

3. mFisheries

mFisheries is a suite of open-source mobile and web applications for small scale fisheries. It was developed at the University of the West Indies with International Development Research Centre (IDRC) support and comprises a virtual marketplace application, which displays market prices using open data. There is also the ‘Got Fish Need Fish application’ which, in real time, connects agents in the fisheries value chain. It includes navigational tools such as a compass and a GPS logging and retrieval application, as well as training companions including abbreviated first aid lessons from courses delivered by the Caribbean Fisheries Training and Development Institute.

>>Achieving an efficient market in the fisheries remains a case with promise, since early efforts by Manobi in Senegal and Jensen’s pioneering work on “The Digital Provide: Information (Technology), Market Performance, and Welfare in the South Indian Fisheries Sector”. Fish is highly perishable with volatile market value and fishermen are largely flexible in terms of where they market their catch. This application does sound promising to me.

4. Esoko

Esoko is Africa’s most popular mAgric platform for tracking and sharing market intelligence. “We have a range of apps that you can choose from to suit your needs,” they state. It links farmers to markets with automatic market prices and offers from buyers, disseminate personalised extension messages based on crop & location, and manages extension officers and lead farmers with SMS messaging. Esoko is a totally customisable comprehensive platform designed to transform how you manage your information needs – all bundled into one easy-to-use interface, and backed up with a unique deployment team to help you anywhere.

>> I have spent a lot of time with Esoko in Ghana. I think they are moving in the right direction towards developing a sustainable B2B2C business model. Synthesizing IT development knowledge, agronomic and business knowledge they work with wholesale clients  while maintaining some retail content offerings.

5. FarmerConnect

The FarmerConnect Platform is a cloud-based and mobile-enabled platform that delivers personalised agricultural extension services and text/audio information intelligence in local languages to smallholders and farmers who otherwise do not have access to- or can comprehend information from traditional sources. Such service helps them stay connected with the information and aiding agencies on a daily basis, increase their yields/incomes, and reduce hunger, poverty and under-nutrition. FarmerConnect, in a nutshell, hosts a one-stop market place for agricultural communities, including service seekers (Farmers), service enablers (Government, NGO and Private agencies) and service providers (Agronomists, Markets Trackers, Weather Stations etc.).

>>It appears to me that leveraging the mobile cloud for the delivery of media rich advisory services is a promising approach to raising agricultural productivity. Yet, only focusing on disembodied knowledge can be problematic. Advice, without human contact and without knowledge inputs e.g. fertilizers, technologies, etc. rarely delivers impact.

6. M-Shamba

M-Shamba is an interactive platform that provides information to farmers through the use of a mobile phone. M-shamba utilises the various features of a mobile phone, including cross-platform applications accessible in both smart and low-end phones, and SMS to provide information on production, harvesting, marketing, credit, weather and climate. It provides customised information to farmers based on their location and crop/animal preference. Farmers can also share information on various topics with each other. M-shamba is currently being used by 4000 rice farmers in Kenya to help them adopt new technologies in rice farming.

>> I appreciate that this app offers social networking and knowledge exchange functionalities. I think it is a mandatory aspect of  a working solution for rural Africa. Applications which do not harness the strength of rural information networks are missing the point.

7. Mobile Agribiz

Mobile Agribiz (mogribu.com) is a web and SMS mobile application that helps farmers decide when and how to plant crops, select the best crops for a given location using climate and weather data, and connect to the available market. It helps connect farmers to buyers, and helps them to source important, relevant information (e.g. how to plant crops, how to use fertilizers) and necessary data aggregates (e.g. weather, crop pricing) from various sources. Farmers can easily connect with customers by sending an SMS with their phone number, information on goods, prices and quantities fort sale. This information is plotted into a map on servers, enabling customers to see farmers’ information, the goods they are selling, their quantities and location, and make a connection.

8. AgroSim

AgroSim is a valuable tool for decision-making in agricultural projects. It works primarily on data collected online and provides a virtual representation of the different stages of crop growth and development as would be the case in reality. It is an event simulator able to anticipate the quality and quantity of the productivity of a desired crop by taking into account data related to seed, soil, hydraulic climate, geography, macro-economy and the demographic of the targeted area. Created to be used on all platforms (locally, online, on Smartphone and Android) and built with artificial intelligence to cater for the increasingly demanding needs of this industry, Agrosim is an adaptable and portable application which is universally used by both novices and professionals in the agricultural sector.

>>I am sorry to say so, but I think that a traditional decision-support system is largely inadequate for responding to the needs and capacities of African smallholders.

9. amAgriculture

Developed by Access.mobile, amAgriculture is an analytical tool that helps agri-businesses understand underlying business trends, manage transactions, cut costs, increase revenues and mitigate risk. Core product features include agricultural input data collection and management; agricultural output data collection and management; transactional data tracking from agent transactions with farmers in cooperatives/network; web-based and mobile analytics; web-based push/pull SMS system for agents and farmer communication; and data export capabilities in Microsoft Excel.

10. Farming Instructor

Farming Instructor is a mobile app that provides online and offline agricultural information (text, speeches and animations) to farmers and their communities. The application is created specifically to inspire youth and all other groups in the society to have the passion to engage in agriculture as the means to self-employment. With this app, the user or farmer can source all the necessary information related to agriculture, as well as share and comment on other farming tips and advice.

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A Noble Use for Mobile Phones

with Meika Jensen

As ‘the Internet of things’ becomes more pervasive and as wireless connectivity becomes more widely available, the possibilities for what can be done with is are constantly growing. Someday it may be the case that someone in rural Africa could remotely earn an accredited online masters degree, or could start a Fortune 500 company. For the time being, information technology use in Africa is a little more immediate and pragmatic. Although the industry is still in its nascent stages, we have witnessed more than a few creative technology applications, aimed at ambitious impact goals in terms of African development and welfare.

It is not a surprise to anyone that mobile phones are extremely popular among the fluid and changeable populations of urban and peri-urban Africa. But what about poorer rural communities? As a matter if fact, rural and traditional communities in Africa are strongholds of deep-seated oral cultures which have adopted the use of the mobile phone as much as it has become part of our own Western culture. The value of basic mobile functionalities (voice and SMS) to rural communities has been well documented. Increasingly, the mobile channel is becoming a channel for direct access to the Internet and the information service opportunities it can offer. As mobile network expansion opportunities are coming to their natural limits, intensifying rural-based use of value added services is becoming a priority. Multimedia channels combining mobile functionalities (voice and data) with traditional broadcasting methods (radio, TV) hold considerable promise.

The earthquake in Haiti, the civil unrest in North Africa, the natural disasters and tsunamis that hit the Pacific over the past few years are considered “game changers” in terms of our understanding of mass communication with poorly-resourced and poorly-organized groups of people, reachable exclusively via mobile signal. Not only were cell phones and their use of text messaging essential for coordinating relief efforts and letting victims stay on top of rescue updates, they allowed those with limited access to reach out directly to relief agencies or to get support indirectly, through their social networks, thereby finding hope and organization rather than chaos and tragedy.

mPedigree has put itself on the cutting edge by using cell phone technology and text-back messages based on short codes and SKU #s so Africans can verify weather malaria drugs are legitimate or counterfeit. And before cell phone use became widespread across the African continent, groups like the World Health Organization wouldn’t have been able to organize a mass database of cell phone users and cell phone numbers to organize vaccination stations and reminders, schedule health check-ups, and push reminders to massive numbers of people.

In 2001, a mere 3% of Africans had access to cell phone. By 2004 that number had grown to 7% and represented 50-million cell phone users. Four years later, in 2008, that number ballooned to nearly 350-million and it continues to grow at the quickest rate in the world. And these numbers are just scratching the surface as new cell phone contracts are projecting at 550% growth over the next five years.

The role of mobile phones in daily life ranges from busting counterfeit drug suppliers, getting emergency weather alerts, to breaking local, national, and international news. But experts predict mobile will play a key role in the development of Africa’s rural and isolated communities. Nigel Scott and his colleagues wrote a report in 2004 called “The Impact of Mobile Phones in Africa” and argued that mobile phones are becoming increasingly important to African countries in areas such as infrastructure service, as a household investment that improves the quality of life via social capital and personal finance management, as a source of jobs and reinvestment from mobile operators with a vested interest in improving the quality of life for their customers, and finally as a tool for building a nation. Their research showed how mobile phones could increase the efficiency of news and service delivery to the poor (weather, education trends, market prices, news and health updates). The very definition of “third world” is being redefined as the gap between the haves and have-nots is shrinking.

Unlike almost any time in its history, Africa is becoming connected to itself and to the world at large. As mobile phones and mobile Internet continue to shape rural Africa’s next decade and century, it won’t have to struggle in order to have its voice heard.

Zain is ZAP-ping Ghana?

At a press conference today, Zain announced the launch of its award-winning, enhanced payment service ZAP in Ghana. The service is set to compete for the custom of the Ghanaian “unbanked” with MTN’s Mobile Money.

The development of mobile payment mechanisms in the Ghanaian market for value-added mobile services, alongside with the evolution of the local market information platform Esoko, makes mobile commerce in Ghana an increasingly realistic prospect.

Zain Introduces Enhanced Payment Product

Phillip Sowah - Zain Ghana boss

The mobile phone has become one of the most important pieces of equipment that has revolutionaised processes in the society, making people transact business and communicate in a friendly and more convenient way.

Not only have authorities predicted the continuous revolution in the sector, but they believe Africa, which was written off as one that could not realise the full benefit of the technology, will now be at the centre of the mobile phone revolution, using the device to facilitate trade and the settlement of values beyond its traditional use as a communication tool to which the device is put in many parts of the world.

Leading the mobile revolution in Africa and the Middle East is Zain Telecommunications which continues to use veritable market survey to design products and services on its platform to the benefit of the ordinary person and businesses.

The telecom service provider has introduced onto the Ghanaian market its award-winning mobile commerce (m-commerce) product, the Zap service, which is set to make business transactions on all platforms easier by enabling users to access funds from their bank accounts and pay utility bills using their mobile phones.

ZAP has been extensively reviewed and approved by industry experts across the world as an efficient way of doing transactions. The product is the reigning winner of the coveted award for Best Mobile Money for the Unbanked Service at the GSMA Global Mobile World Awards 2010.

The Country Manager of Zain, Mr Philip Sowah, explained that the service went beyond money transfer into enabling users of the service to effect payment of any kind be it a bill at a grocery, utility bills, pay-TV bills, school fees, or even to honour pledges and tithes at church.

“This service will enable people to transact business and make payments without resorting to cash,” Mr Sowah explained, adding that although the service would initially be available to Zain customers, it would later rope in other platforms.

Currently, Zain is working in partnership with three banks, namely Ecobank, Standard Chartered Bank and UBA to deploy the service with the hope that after the launch other banks would be roped in.

With its authentic ability to capture people in the informal sector, who would load cash on the service for transactions, the product would help in banking a lot more people in that sector, thus help in mopping up excess money in circulation, a condition necessary for checking inflation. Currently, only 80 per cent of the Ghanaian working population is unbanked. This means a teaming number of people in the informal economy remain unbanked.

“The unbanked will become banked under Zap and enable banks to have access to more customers,” Mr Sowah added, adding that the general economic and business benefits of ZAP were astounding and would further revolutionarise commerce in Ghana.

How it operates

Customers of the network will first have to register with the mobile provider before being able to access their Zap service. The customers can send money from their bank account to ZAP account or go to the nearest Zain dealer or Zap centre to deposit cash onto their Zap service to enable them to send money from ZAP to a bank account, send virtual money to friends and family, receive virtual money or withdraw cash.

Mr Sowah said “money can be redeemed from any ZAP outlet or Zain accredited shops all over the country.”

On another level, merchants and service providers who would be signed on would also have their Zap account which would facilitate a unique settlements system that would facilitate the exchange of goods and services to take place.

For instance, at the Accra Mall, all the big and small vendors would have the service which would allow customers to buy from say game supermarket and pay through the Zap service.

It can also work in informal economies such as at traditional markets in Ghana such as the Makola market in Accra, the Asafo market in Kumasi or the Techiman market in the Brong Ahafo Region.

For money transfer, the upper limit is GH¢600 a day, while transactions with merchants could go beyond that to bigger amounts, in an attempt to check fraudulent deals with the system, such as money laundering.

Convenience

Besides the multi-faceted services it offers, Zap also promises convenient and a cost efficient way of transferring money; or for the payment of goods and services in the Ghanaian market.

Zain officials said there would be no need for any special subscriber identity module (SIM) card or customers to begin to enjoy the ZAP service. In addition, however, customers who would use ZAP would be allowed to keep their phone numbers confidential with the use of ‘nicknames’ to transfer money.

The service could also be used to top up airtime for the customer or for someone else.

Security features

The company stressed that since Zap operated in a ‘virtual’ world of transacting business without carrying cash, theft cases and armed robbery would be drastically reduced, citing building contractors as an example of a category that could “Zap” workers’ wages directly to their handsets without carrying sack loads of money.

The workers could later redeem the cash at the ZAP outlets doted all across the country, Mr Sowah explained.

The ZAP service is currently in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Niger and Sierra Leone.

via Zain Introduces Enhanced Payment Product| Business News | Graphicghana.com | Ghana News,Politics,Sports,Business,Entertainment.