Category Archives: Technology Development

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.

Africa’s business technology revolution gathers pace

By Egon Cossou Editor, Africa Business Report, BBC World

Think African economies and you may think commodities, like oil and gas. But it may be time to start thinking tech innovation.Countries around the continent have identified technology as a key weapon in the battle to boost prosperity – and that has sparked a tech revolution.

Sky high ambition

The continent’s biggest economy has sky high ambitions.

South Africa is a serious contender to be home to a massive deep space telescope project called the SKA – or Square Kilometre Array. If the country beats off competition from Australia, its aerospace industry would receive a massive boost.

In fact, science and technology minister Naledi Pandor says the project would be “the largest science-based capital injection” Africa has ever seen.

That could mean more jobs and training in a cutting edge sector.

Young guns

But Africa’s tech revolution could run out of steam unless it produces a new generation of innovators. That is why Kenya is taking steps to develop the talent that could help it get ahead of the game.

It is doing so with projects like m:lab – a consortium of stakeholders, including Nairobi University, which aims to hothouse talented mobile application developers.

Manager John Kieti says he is convinced Kenya is now a major world technology hub.

“[The mobile] is much cheaper to get, plus it can be used outside where there is no infrastructure like power,” he says.

“Essentially, the mobile is going to be huge for us in terms of innovation, much more than the PC was a few years ago.”

But it’s not enough just to come up with good ideas – m:lab encourages innovators to focus on “demand driven” applications so they can be turned into viable businesses.

Pay it forward

Kariuki Gathitu

Kariuki Gathitu is one of the hottest properties in Kenya’s tech sector.

He is a 27 year old software developer who has come up with an application to build on the country’s already sophisticated mobile payments market, called M-Payer.

“It has come into the mobile money scene to solve a huge challenge,” he says. “This challenge is basically the interoperability, aggregation and integration of mobile money.”

It streamlines the whole process from start to finish and so aims to benefit consumer and business operator alike.

Mr Gathitu demonstrates how subscribers can pay bills, receive cash and transfer funds with just a few taps on a mobile, and cash will clear in minutes, not hours or days.

M-Payer claims it can end the ‘cheque in post’ culture that has ruined many small African firms, often operating on tiny margins, with little or no access to bank credit.

Wider markets

But the revolution is not only happening in Kenya.

Right across the continent, developers are coming up with applications designed to reflect local needs. In Ghana, it is now central to the health of both companies and individuals.

ShopAfrica53

The country has no shortage of enterprise, but smaller operators can struggle to gain access to wider markets.

And that access can make the difference between stagnation and prosperity.

One company in Accra is itself making a living by using technology to boost the prospects of other businesses.

ShopAfrica53 is a kind of web-mall – advertising goods and services from a range of small businesses in Ghana.

This means the tiniest and most remote operator now has access to an international market. The website also handles logistics like collection and delivery of goods, and takes payment on behalf of the vendors.

The technology being used by ShopAfrica53 can be a lifeline for small entrepreneurs ranging from tailors to artists.

Fighting the fakes

IT is even being used to protect the health of individuals by tackling the potentially deadly problem of fake medicines. An application called mPedigree allows you to check the authenticity of drugs.

Mobile phone using mPedigree

You simply examine a special verification code on the bottle or packaging and send it, via free text, to a central online registry. An automatic response confirms whether the product is the real deal.

So far, only two of Ghana’s major pharmacies have actually joined the system, but mPedigree says others have expressed interest.

“The drug industry in Ghana is worth about $750m (£465m) a year,” says mPedigree’s Selorm Branttie.

“Assuming about 10% of those are counterfeit drugs, we are talking about $75m a year going into the wrong hands… being invested into the wrong industries.”

So whether it is fighting fake medicines or developing cutting edge telescopes, it’s clear that Africa’s technology is increasingly important in changing the lives of people across the continent.

“We cannot miss this train,” says ShopAfrica53’s chief executive Herman Chinnery-Hesse. “It’s the only way to go.”

via BBC News – Africa’s business technology revolution gathers pace.

Are Mid-Range Phones the “Smartphones 4D”?

I have finally come around to revisiting some of the topics that came up during the days of the CTA ICT Observatory, held in Wageningen, the Neatherlands from 2nd to 4th of Nobember, 2009. One topic in particular that reared its head during the first day, concerned the potential of mid-range mobile phone devices to deliver the benefits associated with mobile services.

The topic came up when all participants were asked by the workshop facilitators Pete Cranston and Christian Kreutz to consider the advantages and disadvantages of different technological channels for access to information. Volunteers were asked to collect views regarding the following channels:

  • Indirect access i.e. information access mediated by another human being.
  • Radio
  • Direct information sharing i.e. CDs, printouts, file sharing.
  • Rural access
  • Basic phones: devices with two-tone displays and basic functionality.  Almost exclusively the functionality is limited to voice and SMS.
  • Mid-range phones i.e. phones with functionality exceeding the basics.  These devices have multi-tone display and a data channel (GPRS) with a high level of usability. Features such as extendable keyboards, cameras
  • Smart phones i.e. phones complete with an operating system and advanced PC-like functionalities such as email and Internet access.

I collected the views of the participants in the workshop on mid-range phones. And after about half an hour we came up with the poster below.

Pros and Cons of Mid-range Phones

The pros of mid-range phones include that they allow for the development of more interactive mobile applications and services. The use of phones and services with basic functionality have proven their worth and usefulness, as in the many deployment examples associated with FrontlineSMS. Still, many of the areas where SMS services are used can benefit from more extensive interactions. That’s why we put interactivity as one of the advantages carried by mid-range phones. The implementations I envisage would fall somewhere on the orange fraction of “social mobile’s long tail”, as explained by Ken Banks in a recent post on his blog. Arguably, mid-range phones are currently the devices of choice for end-users in the implementation of mid-complexity systems and customised solutions. Yet again, arguably, they have the potential of being the devices of choice for the implementation of simple, low cost systems in the future.

Another advantage of mid-range phones is that through the data channel they allow information to be exchanged way more cheaply than SMS. Steve Song оf manypossibilities.net has posted much on the lack of fairness in the pricing of mobile communication and recently started the initiative Fair Mobile).  Mid-range phones allow a cheaper alternative because in terms of the price of data transfer per character, data services based on GPRS are up to 1000 times cheaper. This argument was put forward as part of the presentation of Stephane Boyera from the W3C at CTA’s ICT Observatory. Moreover, the feasibility of extending the use of devices with mid-range functionality in the provision of mobile services is supported by the increased market availability of such devices at prices near the $50 mark.

In a recent analysis of the potential of hybrid devices, Simon Kearney notes that “while smartphones may dominate the mobile growth story in many developed markets, the picture is very different in the much larger developing and emerging world markets.”  In these markets products and services such as Nokia’s Life Tools are, in many ways, exploring leapfrogging possibilities by allowing mobile access to the Internet.

The Nokia Life Tools services, deployed in India and Indonesia are examples of mobile services which can be deployed through mid-range phones. These services are targeted at very low earners in developing countries. They allow users access to weather and agricultural market information. A series of phones designed as end-user devices for Nokia Life Tools, and retailing at prices between 20 and 54 Euros – before taxes and subsidies – are shortly due to begin shipping.

Designing Services for Financial Inclusion

Presentation by Jan Chipchase at the Mobile Money Conference, Dubai, October 26th 2009. Who benefits more from the introduction of mobile phone banking services – a white-collar worker in New York City or a migrant manual labourer living out of a dormitory in Xi’an? Design research for Nokia Money.

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