Posts Tagged ‘Fertilizer’

Here’s the latest from our ongoing project with Notore in Nigeria:

- As referenced in our last post, we’ve launched the pilot program in five rural states. With the help of a Notore executive in each state, we’ve met with the distributor and 10 of the VPs.

- We trained each group in each state on how to use our Java-app-equipped mobile devices. They’re starting to get familiar with the system. This system empowers the VPs and cuts down on costs, because, instead of maintaining a storefront and storage space for products farmers may or may not want, the VPs can now place the exact order. This not only saves them time and money; it also makes the entire supply chain more efficient.

- Our Java app allows the VPs to see in real-time what the distributor has in stock. The distributor, meanwhile, can see in real-time what the VP is ordering. If the VP’s order isn’t in stock, the system will automatically inform him. In addition, the app allows the VP to see when a distributor is making a shipment. This frees up the VP to spend more time teaching the farmers how to improve their agricultural practices. It also saves farmers lengthy, costly, time-consuming trips to local distribution areas for products that may or may not be available. In turn, it allows the farmers to increase the yield on his land.

The bottom line: We’re making good progress, and we’re hopeful we can make the lives easier of everyone up and down the supply chain. We’ll post pictures soon.

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The market in Bali County.

SlimTrader has entered the next phase of our Notore pilot program in the Northern Nigerian State of Taraba. We’ve been working with retailers, aka Village Promoters (VPs), for some time in order to upload their complete inventory, including quantity and price, into our database. Now that this stage is complete, we’re focusing on reaching out to the VPs’ customers, i.e., farmers.

This is how the service works: A farmer sends us an SMS requesting a specific amount of Notore fertilizer. Then we reply, via SMS, with a list of local VPs who have what the farmer is looking for and at what prices. From there, the farmer determines which VP has the right amount at the right price, then makes the purchase by sending another SMS message. He/she can either pay via one of our mobile money partners from his/her cell phone right then and there, or when he/she arrives to pick up the fertilizer.

In order to explain the service and to spread word of its availability, our outreach team journeyed to the market in the county of Bali and chatted with farmers directly. This is an important part of the process. It’s how we understand, at a very low-temperature level, the needs of farmers, which allows us to refine our approach to providing the Notore products they need to increase outputs and, thus, better their lives.

Some food for thought (no pun intended) gleaned from our market trip:

- While excited about the program, farmers are also hesitant, as it’s a new way to shop for goods. It’s a common, completely understandable reaction which is quickly overcome once farmers see how simple our system is.

- Most farmers have cell phones, so it won’t be difficult to train them on using our service.

- Notore fertilizer dealers are often difficult to visit in person. Thus, searching the dealers’ inventory via mobile phones prior to traveling is a major plus for farmers.

- The price of a text message is a concern, but we’re working to offer a cheaper plan.

To view more photos from our trip the market in Bali county, please visit our Facebook page.

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During SOCAP 2011, we talked with many people from around the world who saw the universal applicability of our Notore pilot program, which we launched earlier this year in Northern Nigeria. All of these conversations served to validate our mobile platform as an affordable, effective solution to bettering the lives of subsistence farmers and others, regardless of where they live. Here are some of the highlights:

- A woman from Thailand said our efforts to support farmers in Taraba State would work just as well and be just as valuable in her country. Why? Because she’s having similar difficulties reaching remote villages there and convincing farmers to use agricultural inputs. Simply put: As in Taraba State, the farmers in Thailand lack access and information.

- A woman supporting farming in the South American rain forest is attempting to steer farmers away from environmentally destructive agricultural methods, such as slash-and-burn, toward more environmentally sensitive ones. The problem, however, is that crop yields falter when farmers take the latter course; as a result, there’s no incentive to protect the rain forest. What’s needed, then, is a better supply chain which not only includes access to fertilizers and other yield-enhancing products, but also the means by which farmers can sell their products. Once again, it’s a question of creating a network that connects these farmers with the larger world, where they would function as both consumers and sellers. This would benefit the entire supply chain, while improving the lives of the farmers and the environment.

One other note: We also met an affordable housing advocate who felt our mobile platform could be applied to the construction industry. We’ll detail this fascinating conversation in a post next week.

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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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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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VPs listen as SlimTrader team members demonstrate the MoBiashara service in a makeshift training center.

Now that we’ve provided background on the area in which we’re working and detailed how the MoBiashara service helps farmers connect with Notore, let’s talk about the implementation process.

The setting: Jalingo, the capital of Nigeria’s Taraba state. The participants: 17 Village Promoters (VP), representing eight local governments; two representatives of Notore; and three Slimtrader team members. The goal: to make MoBiashara that much better going forward for Notore and the farmers in Taraba, as well as our other clients in our other areas of operation.

MoBiashara helps distribute crucial Notore fertilizers from trading centers in Taaraba (pictured) to farmers.

After demonstrating MoBiashara to the VPs, they noted a variety of benefits, which, in the aggregate, had the ability to positively, and profoundly, impact the means of distribution. This would have a number of equally positive-and yes, profound-effects:

  • Despite the distribution challenges the localities are currently facing, MoBiashara engenders efficient supply chain management.
  • The VPs felt MoBiashara would help them increase  sales of Notore products among their existing farmers, who would in turn benefit by having higher crop yields, among other things.
  • MoBiashara drives consumer demand by communicating the availability of Notore’s product.

So, as indicated by the final bullet point, by allowing farmers to query Notore’s inventory from their mobile phones before journeying to a distribution center, MoBiashara is empowering them. We’re saving them time, which for “base of the pyramid” consumers is literally money.  In the process, we’re creating a positive feedback loop which travels up and down the supply chain, and beyond. Notore widens its market penetration. Farmers know what and where to get the products they need. And everyone from the bus drivers who bring the farmers to the distribution centers to the shop owners who sell them lunch, benefits.

One final point: In order to make the querying of Notore’s inventory even more accessible and efficient, the VPs stressed that the service must be in the local dialect of Hausa. (Deploying the service in any other dialect in any other African state is 100 percent doable.  Flexibility of performance is yet another benefit of MoBiashara.) By traveling to Taaraba and working directly with both our client (Notore) and our client’s clients (the VPs and the farmers they represent), the SlimTrader team was able to identify, and implement, a crucial component to the MoBiashara platform there. Being hands-on counts.

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We’ve learned a lot while working with farmers to implement the MoBiashara service on behalf of, and in conjunction with, our partner and client Notore in Northern Nigeria. As we suspected, the supply chain connecting farmers, merchants, and agro-dealers needs to be strengthened, for the benefit of all.

Which means our pilot program in the region has delivered yet more proof of the efficacy and universal application of our concept. By providing farmers with a mobile platform that allows them to query the inventory of, and then make purchases from, suppliers via text-messages not only works; it’s also necessary.

In short: MoBiashara provides the missing link in the supply chain. But in order to understand the benefits our service offers the agriculture sector in the area, first, we needed to understand how it functioned.  To that end, SlimTrader’s CMO Betty Radier, who’s leading the demonstration and implementation of our mobile service there, made the following observations during her trip to the city of Yola:

  • Farmers use irrigation techniques, laying pipes from the river and using pumps to ensure water flows to their crops. Because of these methods, farming isn’t seasonal; it’s year-round.
  • Farm inputs are subsidized by the government
  • Farming is used for both subsistence and trade.
  • A large majority of the people at the “base of the pyramid” engage in farming activities.
  • The area’s staples include rice, yams, and cassava.

Below, you’ll find two photos illustrating farming techniques and the potential to enhance yields in Yola. Tomorrow, we’ll take an in-depth look at the official launch of the MoBiashara service in the region.

The mouth of a pipeline used to irrigate rice fields in Yola.

The current crop yield in Yola can be greatly enhanced by Notore fertilizers--a transaction that MoBiashara helps facilitate.

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As we expand, so does recognition about the good work SlimTrader is doing. Case in point: Our founder and CEO, Femi Akinde, was interviewed by another major U.S. media outlet. This time, he sat down with Forbes to discuss our “promising start-up.” The video below is well worth your time and attention.

In addition, CMO Betty Radier traveled from our Kenya office to the Northern Nigerian state of Taraba, where she and her staff are training Village Promoters (VPs) on our MoBiashara service. These seminars are part of a pilot program with our client and partner Notore-an “agro-allied and chemical company” dedicated to  “championing the African Green Revolution by supporting local food production.” Such an effort, of course, is what SlimTrader was founded to facilitate. Which is why Betty felt it was so important to personally attend the demonstrations, community outreach being a cornerstone of the SlimTrader mission.

MoBiashara allows the VPs and the farmers they represent to use their mobile phones to purchase much-needed products, such as fertilizer from Notore. As Forbes describes the service’s myriad applications:

A traveler in Lagos, Nigeria can enter the text shortcode for a bus ticket and get a reply with a schedule and prices. He texts back to book the time he wants and gets a reply back with the reference number he needs to pay for the ticket via his mobile wallet. Same goes for a farmer who wants to buy bags of fertilizer. Or a doctor who wants verified medicine for his clinic.

A former Microsoft Partner Services lead for Western, Eastern, and Central Africa, Betty has filed a detailed report on her experiences working with 17 village promoters from the following areas: Wukari, Ibi, Bali, Gassol, Lau, Takun, Ardo- Kola Zing, and Donga. We’ll be sharing details of her findings over the next several days. In the meantime, please enjoy this sampling of photos, complete with captions:

Village Promoters, along with MoBiashara and Notore staff members.

Betty shows the Village Promoters how to use our MoBiashara service.

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