It’s been a while since we’ve talked about Econet’s EcoFarmer. Like other ancillary services from the mobile operator, the VAS solution, which is part of the Econet Services imprint, kind of takes a back seat while EcoCash draws most of the attention.
That’s not to say the service has been completely dead. It still provides agricultural information to farmers via SMS and it offers insurance service for farmers’ produce. According to Dr Jimmy Shindi, the head of Econet Services, EcoFarmer is providing services to over 300,000 farmers.
Now, something new has come from EcoFarmer in the form of a new platform that connects farmers to agricultural extension officers. It’s called Dial-a-Mudhumeni. This service has been launched in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and it’s meant to provide farmers who normally have to travel long distance to get information from agricultural extensions (AREX) officers (an AREX officer is known as mudhumeni, hence the name)
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To access the service farmers can simply dial 144 which directs to the EcoFarmer call centre. Depending on the sort of assistance a farmer needs, he or she is directed to one of three available specialist services which are agricultural marketing advisers, livestock specialists and tobacco experts. According to the response we got when we triedd the number, the service is available from 8 to 1pm from Mondays to Fridays.
Through the Ministry of Agriculture, Econet is working with specialists from the Tobacco Research Board for tobacco advice, the Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services for livestock and veterinary expertise and an agriculture info service provider called Mubatsiri for markets tips.
This Dial-a-Mudhumeni looks like another strategy that’s aimed at increasing revenue by broadening the appeal of existing service lines. Following a dip in revenue and profit reported in its last annual results, the operator has to really broaden its revenue net. Less than a week ago we were talking about its foray into LP Gas through the acquisition of Redan Gas as part of an Econet Energy investment.
The name Dial-a-Mudhumeni is also an easy reminder of the Dial-a-Doc service that Econet introduced last year. This VAS solution also works as a premium rated call service, albeit for medical advice and coincidentally, under the Econet Health banner, the distribution of information via SMS is also one of the added services.
This Dial-a-Mudhumeni falls neatly into EcoFarmer’s four-pillar approach to mobile agriculture focused on Security, Trade, Payments and Information, a focus which the operator unveiled back in 2013. What remains to be seen is how much of an impact it will make in the market.