Tag Archives: Information Intermediaries

Talking about Movirtu’s MXShare

On Friday, 23 May Mr. Guy Collender  published through the Guardian, Society an opinion piece considering how mobile technology is benefiting some of the world’s poorest. Left at that, this is not a rare piece of writing to come by these days. But what made the story “Talking about a revolution” conspicuous for me was the fact that it featured Movirtu‘s MXShare — a fascinating technology I came across recently at the Africa Gathering in London.

Katine farmer Dan Ekongu with his mobile phone, which he uses to communicate about agriculture via Talking about a revolution. Photograph: Dan Chung.

I completely agree with Mr. Collender that, “At first glance it is a peculiar and nonsensical idea: owning a mobile phone number, but not a mobile phone.” And even though the immediate benefits of the idea are that it could enable the bottom billion (i.e. the 1 billion people living on less than $2 a day) “to enjoy the benefits associated with a mobile phone number, such as receiving messages and remittances,” I think it could have much wider and far-reaching consequences.

The MXShare concept, installed in the core of a mobile network, enables individuals to share a mobile phone while maintaining separate identities, including a phone number, list of contacts, etc. MXShare makes this possible by creating a virtual mobile system, embedded within an operator’s switching centre.

MXShare’s obvious caveat is that it is not operator agnostic. Many people working in development would consider this an insurmountable drawback, particularly because mobile phone information systems tend to be implemented on a fairly small scale, by NGOs and development organisation, who find it a challenge to get the interest and collaboration of large (read popular) GSM operators.

Although I can see MXShare’s operator dependance as a hindrance to its adoption, I personally am much more intrigued by the possibilities and challenges which the technology concept opens up.

The possibilities stem from the prospect of attaching a fixed identity to mobile phone users. Identifying people is still a challenge in the online world of the Internet but increasingly users of various online services are identified only by their email address and a password. Movitu’s MXShare opens the door to similar solutions to the identification problem in the world of mobiles, a world which is currently hyping about mobile-Web integrated services. Besides allowing people who live on less than $2 a day to receive remittances, the technology can be used as a gateway for the introduction of mobile-Web enabled devices in the developing world. And needless to say, alongside the better devices will come the better services — better m-health, better m-learning, and last but not least, better m-commerce.

For mobile market information services, particularly ones relying on user-generated content, the possibilities offered by identification are considerable. The ability to trace back to its author content of the “classified ad” style, submitted to user-generated content services will increase their appeal. Moreover, it could lead to improvements in the legal framework which would give legitimacy to agreements reached via mobile phone.

Advertisements

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.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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.

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