Archive for August, 2011

It’s been a long journey, but the pilot program we launched in Taraba with our partner and client Notore has reached an important milestone. All of our outreach staff have now visited every major county in the Northern Nigerian state, and more than half the village promoters are on the platform. They’re learning how to use our MoBiashara service, and we’re continuing to learn how to deepen local understanding of its benefits.

It’s been a wonderful experience so far, and we’ve been happy to share it with you. But there’s still much work to be done, which we’ll, of course, be sharing with you in the near future.

Here are some photos from our journey thus far:

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Jamie Holmes of The Atlantic Monthly flags a staggering statistic: “Feature mobiles have spread into some of the most remote areas of the globe, with 48 million people now with cell phones but no electricity, and by next year, 1.7 billion with cell phones but no bank account, according to one estimate.”

He further notes the game-changing impact the proliferation of text message-enabled phones is having on the way business is done in the developing world:

Nokia’s “Ovi Life Tools” offer agricultural, educational, and health information via SMS in India, Nigeria, Indonesia, and China. Txteagle, a business began by MIT’s Nathan Eagle, now uses SMS surveys to perform research into emerging markets, paying for completed surveys in mobile airtime. In time, the impact of such services on local economies could be tremendous.

With mobile money, the possibilities multiply. Are there services that help list and sell products via SMS? You bet. Pay taxes by SMS? Yup. Buy clean water at mobile-payment vending machines? Sure. How about having a crop insurance payout sent directly to mobiles based on automated rainfall measurements? That’s been done, too.

Last year, 4.16 billion users made SMS the most popular data channel in the world. An estimated 6.1 trillion texts were sent, up from 1.8 trillion in 2007. And while the proportion of customers using SMS for more than simple messaging is still small, in poor nations these services are already changing the nature of commerce, crime, reporting news, political participation, and governing.

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A retailer displays his mobile phone, after updating his inventory. It now shows he has 38 bags of Urea 1kg for 130NGN.

You already know how our system works for the individual farmer shopping for Notore’s fertilizers. But how do Notore’s accredited retailers update their available inventory in the system, so that the farmer can review it and make a purchase? What equipment does it require? A computer with an Internet connection? A scanner? A smart phone?

The answer: none of the above. All a retailer pre-approved by Notore  needs is access to the system and a mobile phone with the ability to send text messages; the process is, more or less, the same as it is for the farmer.

(Note: Only retailers pre-approved by Notore are allowed access to the backend to upload or update inventory.)

Once the retailer uploads his/her inventory of Notore products into the system via texting (SMS), there are two ways it’s updated. If a purchase is made via mobile phone using MoBiashara, then the inventory is automatically updated. But if a purchase is made in the retailer’s store, it must be manually updated by the retailer.

Here are the two easy steps for manually updating the inventory:

1) The retailer sends a message with the fertilizer’s product ID and the updated quantity and price, if needed.

2) A response is returned showing the updated quantities and pricing.

This simple process allows for real-time updating, which in turn allows farmers to have a full picture of exactly what Notore fertilizers the retailer has on offer, in what quantity, and at what cost. In other words, the mobile phone is the store.

Another benefit: Since everyone along the distribution chain is using the same SMS-based process, it creates an invaluable continuity between Notore, Notore’s accredited retailer, and the farmer. Because they’re all on the same page, there’s no mystery and, thus, no doubt. And when it comes to business, there’s no more valuable commodity than trust. We’re helping to create and facilitate trust and understanding with MoBiashara.

Our outreach personnel have been dispatched to teach retailers, distributors, and consumers (in the case of the Notore program, farmers) on how to use the system and walk them through the process, where and when necessary.

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One of our chief missions is to offer the un-banked a safe, an efficient, and a cashless alternative to purchasing life’s necessities. Why? Because their reliance on cash exposes them to multiple risks, including: cash can get stolen, cash can be lost or spent on something other than what was intended.

For this particular pilot, we’ve partnered with a Nigerian payment company that has been given an approval-in-principle to operate a mobile payment scheme, which will provide farmers participating in our pilot the ability to purchase scratch cards with the monetary equivalent of the cash they would have paid for their fertilizer.  These cards provide stored value-like a store gift card-and can be used as payment for fertilizer. This eliminates the need for farmers and retailers to carry cash.

Armed with this scratch card and access to  our MoBiashara platform, a farmer can query the inventory of a supplier, select the desired product, and make a purchase-all from the comfort of their  mobile phone. The only thing left for them to do is pick up the product, or have it delivered.

We’ll be talking about this process in this space in the days and weeks to come. Stay tuned…

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