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Wireless Wednesday: Using Technology To Overcome Post Harvest Challenges

Agriculture, Wireless Wednesday

April 19, 2012

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After a successful first, USAID sponsored Wireless Wednesday on 29th February 2012 hosted by m: Lab that focused on Agriculture, the second one comes up next Wednesday. The event themed “Using Technology to overcome Post Harvest challenges”, will be at m: Lab East Africa, Bishop Magua Center premises on 25th April 2012, from 12:00 noon to 2:00 pm. This year’s first Wireless Wednesday meetup on mobiles for agriculture was on “Using Technology to enhance productivity in agricultural value chains“. A recap summary of the discussion points can be found here. The scheduled second meetup aims to continue targeting agricultural value chains with an increased focus on the horticultural sector. It particularly focuses on the post harvest challenges faced by farmers in the horticultural sub sector of the larger agricultural sector. The horticultural sub sector is among the fastest growing industry within the agricultural sector, recording an average growth of 15% to 20% per annum according to Kenya Horticulture Council (K.H.C). The sub sector contributes to the Kenyan socio-economic development through generation of income, creation of employment opportunities and foreign exchange earnings, as well as providing raw materials to the Agro processing

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industry. USAID-500x193 Small scale farmers in the sector however continue to face numerous post harvesting challenges. The challenges may include but are not limited to: determining correct times and stages for harvesting, use of Agro-chemicals, getting to processors without being adversely affected by activities of middlemen and adhering to market quality requirements just to mention a few. It is in this spirit of trying to solve these challenges that USAID and m: Lab East Africa encourage stake holders in the sector through forums like Wireless Wednesday to come together with the Tech community and talk out possible technological solutions to these challenges. The event will bring together farmers and food processors from the South Eastern part of Kenya, software developers and members of the tech community. At the meetup startup companies incubated at m: Lab East Africa, mobile phone manufacturers, mobile network operators are also expected to contribute to the discussion. The meetup aims at getting the attendees to engage each other in a focus group discussion setup exploring how technology can be effectively used to help farmers cope with the challenges faced after crop harvesting. The discussions will particularly explore the role of mobile phones and mobile applications technology in creating solutions to highlighted post harvest challenges. The meetup is expected to deepen the mobile entrepreneurs’ understanding of the agricultural sector and the opportunities it creates. It is an event which contestants in the Pivot East Competition such as GreenHouse Pro, FishMate, mPoultry and FarmPal might find useful for insights to enhance their pitches and business plans for the Pitching Conference in June 5th and 6th Interested individuals may register to attend here through event brite HERE…. – there are limited slots available. Those interested and are unable to attend may follow and contribute to the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #WirelessWednesday.

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WIRELESS WEDNESDAY RECAP: Nine considerations for implementing mAgri Applications.

Agriculture, Wireless Wednesday

March 27, 2012

On 29th February 2012, the m: Lab, hosted one of the frequent meetup dubbed Wireless Wednesday. Wireless Wednesdays are aimed at getting incubatees, members of the tech community, industry stakeholders and thought leaders to engage each other in a focus group discussion on a specified theme in the mobile space. The event provides mentorship opportunities for incubatees and extends the same to the tech community of developers and trainees.
The event sponsored by USAID, had a focus on agriculture. This event was themed on using Technology to enhance productivity in agricultural value chains. A blog that captured the full recap on the event was done.
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The social media community was not left out in this event because there was a live twitter stream during the event which attracted the notice of a number of people using the hashtag #WirelessWednesday.  A recorded video footage of the event with some of the notable clips is now accessible on YouTube.

The set-up was such that the lead discussants started by talking about the different issues that are affecting the value chain and then the conversation were taken up by the developers and other industry players. This paved way for discussions on the problems and their solutions in the agriculture sector in terms of mobile space.
Just a recap on the Learning’s from the discussions here is brief summarized notes on that.
1. Prototyping and iterative improvement
Mobile application developers need to make prototyping a part of their daily routine as they work on various aspects of their apps. This means developers should also work on testing their apps with the actual consumer target audience before they launch their apps to the market. Ideally, developers should spend much time out in the field understanding problems in agricultural value chains so as to come up with more compelling and demand driven solutions.
2. Focus
Mobile developers may be better off focusing attention to address one main problem to avoid getting overwhelmed with the multiplicity of problems that farmers experience or duplication of what is already in the market.
3. Learn from other people
Farmers would like to learn from other farmers mistakes thus developers should think of a platform that can make this possible. An opportunity exists for mobile developers to help build a social network.
4. Information Authenticity
Information that is passed onto farmers needs to be authentic and verifiable.
5. Feedback mechanisms
A Feedback mechanism needs to be included in all the platforms that are developed to ensure that people learn.
6. The middleman
This seems to be a very hot topic which can be taken even further going forward there misconceptions exist among mobile developers, farmers and others in the innovation ecosystem.
7. Mobile devices and affordability
Farmers can afford smarter and with more features mobile phones. They can potentially buy more expensive phones and pay for related data costs if solutions in the phones are compelling enough and directly add value to their farming activities.
8. Diversity of Farmers
Developer need to understand that farmers are diverse in their scale of farming and income levels. Farmers range from those who make millions of shillings in a month from commercial farming to those who barely produce enough for subsistence.
9. Value addition processes
Mobile developers need to explore opportunities to enhance value addition processes for raw agricultural produce.
With those learning points the event came to a close with several remarks and discussions on the way forward in the agribusiness mobile sector.

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In the spirit of networking the developers and the trainees stayed on after the session to brainstorm ideas with the farmers. This event was held as part of the developer outreach for Pivot East to help developers generate ideas for the mobile society category. This encourages and ensures that the developers make applications that are relevant to the society. Apps that tackle real time problems faced by the community and need solutions.
The next meetup sponsored by USAID is scheduled for end of April 2012.
 

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Using technology to enhance productivity in agricultural value chains – Wireless Wednesday Recap Part 1

Agriculture, Wireless Wednesday

March 6, 2012

On Wednesday 29th February the first Wireless Wednesday event of the year was held at m:lab East Africa. The theme of the event was “Using technology to enhance productivity in agricultural value chains”. Wireless Wednesday events are in essence focus group discussions sessions between mobile developers and practitioners or experts in various industry domains. Six farmers and rural community mobilisers were invited to participate and enrich the discussion with experiences shared from a grassroots perspective.

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The discussion started at 12noon and ended at 2pm. Even before the event started, by 10.30am, the enthusiastic participants drawn from the grass roots across Kenya arrived early for a chance to interact with mobile entrepreneurs. m:lab East Africa incubatee – Mfarm Limited particularly received much interest, questions and feedback from the farmers. Among the people who shared expert opinions on the role of technology in enhancing productivity of agricultural chains were Jamila Abass – CEO of Mfarm. According to Jamila, farmers needs included access to information that diversified their options for selling their produce and buying farming inputs. Farmers also need support to address produce storage challenges as they seek and wait for better market prices. In addition, Jamila thought that cash flow concerns and needs for instant cash by farmers against their produce was a challenge affecting their ability to optimize gains from farming. Jamila went further to explain how Mfarm helps to optimize productivity and livelihoods of farmers through market price information, collective produce selling and collective inputs buying.

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Jamila Abass Contributes to the discourse

  Ghalib Hafiz from Juhudi Kilimo also had time to share thoughts about his organization’s contribution to agricultural value chains through micro-finance services. Juhudi Kilimo’s services which are exclusively in agriculture address financing needs of farmers in the deeper rural settings among small holder farmers. According to Ghalib, Juhudi Kilimo had seen a need to finance agricultural assets for farmers that generate income. This approach is different from that of providing working capital and consumption financing by banks and other micro-finance institutions. Using their micro-finance model, Juhudi Kilimo assists farmers to acquire and rear dairy cows with net returns of over 30% on their investments. Their model helps farmers to not only start dairy farming but to also grow their balance sheets with additional investments such as establishing bio gas plants, buying more cows and establishing zero grazing units – in very remote settings of Kenya.
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Ghalib Hafiz shares insights

  Juhudi Kilimo’s focus on the deeper rural small holding farmers implies they have above average operational costs and that the organisation must operate efficiently. According to Ghalib, those efficiencies are currently achieved through mobile technologies. The organization has been creating an ecosystem of mobile applications to achieve their desired operational efficiencies. SimpleMFI, one of their mobile applications assists its loan officers to process loans using Huawei Ideos phones while in the deep rural settings of the farmers. Their Mswali SMS survey tool is used for feedback and conversations such as answering the question of where and for how much dairy farmers sell their milk. Juhudi Kilimo also uses Open Data Kit to collect basic data for their loan clients which is exported to their central management information system through the cloud and to their document management system. The micro-finance institution also has a SMS/USSD based tool for farmers to check their loan balance promptly and accurately. John Wangombe, a farmer from Kinangop shared on how through M-Farm he got connected to better buyers for his snow peas and potatoes. John was glad that he was able to by-pass middle men through the M-Farm application to get higher returns from his farming endeavors. John went ahead to encourage young people to go into farming as it was potentially more rewarding than regular white collar jobs. John’s sentiments were easy to come by – having seen the benefits of using mobile services like Mfarm to maximize gains from his farming endeavors. Patrick Njuguna, a farmer from Ngoliba in the central region of Kenya shared his experiences as farmer as well. Contrary to opinions of many, Patrick thoughts were that middle men were not necessarily bad and that they had an important role in the agricultural value chain. To Patrick, what is needed is to empower farmers with information through mobile innovations that they can use to negotiate and strike more favourable deals with middle men. Patrick called for mobile developers to work closely with mobile operators to increase the uptake of their innovations as the mobile operators needed their applications to drive mobile data revenues. As a farmer holding a BSC in Computer Science, Patrick thought that illiteracy among farmers was over over-emphasized. He disagreed with the ‘stereotype’ that farmers are largely illiterate. According to Patrick, SMS based solutions were not as attractive to farmers as those based on USSD and other mobile technologies.
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George Makumi shares about Livestock Markets and potential for technology infusion

  George Makumi, a livestock health assistant from Makueni appealed for Mfarm and other mobile innovators to help farmers get better prices for their livestock. George also expressed a need for better penetration of mobile information services in the deeper rural areas where information needs are high and information barely trickles there. George opined that mobile information services can be used to significantly improve efficiency in the livestock market place. Market information and best practice information for livestock farming were areas that mobile developers could help to help provide solutions according to George. The event had many insights shared by farmers, developers and mobiles-for-agriculture experts. The insights and discussion points were so many that they can not all fit in this one blog post. Another blog post will be written to cover additional thoughts and insights gathered throughout the event. Additional Information Mobile developers and entrepreneurs have in

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the recent past attempted to introduce new innovations intended to inject efficiencies in the agricultural value chain. It is in an effort to amplify these attempts and their potential impact that m:lab East Africa has got support from USAID to organize a series of “Wireless Wednesday” events throughout the year. The focus group discussions will be aimed at facilitating sharing of knowledge between developers and the subject matter experts in agriculture. Wireless Wednesday events are also opportunities for networking among mobile developers, entrepreneurs, domain practitioners and development partners. USAID-500x193 It is intended that with many more such events facilitating cross domain interactions with mobile developers, more innovations will arise that are relevant to local socio-economic settings. This is expected to improve the the quality and sheer numbers of applications submitted for show casing in Pivot East – the region’s premier mobile apps competition organized annually by m:lab East Africa.

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