Yesterday we attended an ICT for agriculture conference held here in Harare. At the conference, organisations in the sector – Esoko type startups, private companies like Econet (who by the way are doing an Esoko too. A much bigger one), government people from Agritex, and NGOs of course – where sharing their experiences in using technology especially for market linkages for farmers, but to introduce other information efficiencies as well.
Of the presentations made by private companies we were mostly fascinated by one startup called eMkambo. The concept of the idea is very much like the popular Esoko. That is have farmers in a database and push SMS messages to them to inform them of market prices at produce markets like Mbare Musika in Harare, polling of farmers, customised tips for farmers and other such. Mkambo itself is Ndebele for “market”, so eMarket.
What is interesting about eMkambo is that they chose not to stick to the script for the sake of it. The company received its initial funding from NGOs (Hivos and SNV) but is working on its monetisation model so they become profitable and do away with the need for aid.
Presenting at the conference, Clever Mukove who represented the organisation said they had done the following to make the eMkambo concept sustainable:
- They are now more a market intelligence organisation for farmers and traders. They get data about all produce that’s sold at the markets through the City Councils and from this they are able to tell how much value is being transacted, the performance of the different types of crops and the farmers. This data can be monetised as financial institutions can use it for short term loans to traders and other things.
- They have organised traders at markets like Mbare into groups that can borrow loans from the banks and use the group as security. eMkambo pitches the value of the traders to banks and some banks have responded to a market they otherwise ignored because of what they perceived as high risk and low volume. They work with the banks to reduce the time it takes for a trader to secure a loan, and even convince the banks to come open accounts for the traders at the market instead of requiring traders to go into the city. These linkages can be monetised too.
- The provide premium SMSs to farmers. The content is tips on improving their agriculture practices, market intelligence on what to produce, what’s being sought after by traders etc…
- They established a calling center when they discovered that SMS wasn’t enough to communicate information back and forth adequately with farmers to have them understand market information enough to use it in their planning.
- He also said they are working to see if they can share with the MNOs the revenue from the calls that are made by farmers to the eMkambo call center. We are not sure if this will work though as this will depend on the volume of calls they are getting and knowing how these operators work, we don’t think they are enough to warrant discounts.
- They are working on building a farmers holding center in farming areas like Gokwe so farmers don’t have to travel the long distances to Harare once market information has been communicated to both farmers and traders. Traders can to go to the produce and find the farmers organised in a holding centre.
The eMkambo platform was built by Afrosoft, probably the largest enterprise software company locally.
The greatest opportunity we saw for eMkambo is that their way of execution means they have a chance freeing themselves of donor dependency or the dependency on NGOs as customers. This was indeed a concern that was expressed at the conference by participants; that even the private companies there were looking at NGOS as their major customers and not the farmers and traders, whose needs they are supposed to meet enough that they see value in paying for the product.