I recently came back from a trip to Vietnam where I met with our business partners Fresh Studio and The Fruit Republic. We worked on developing a new line of business; selling fresh vegetables produced by small holder farmers in Northern Vietnam.
Safety and quality are important features of products to be able to attract new customers in Hanoi. Fresh Studio with its team of agronomists ensures that, by certifying every farmer producing vegetables. As in many developing countries, all records of these certification processes are done on paper in a rather inefficient way. Key agricultural information is in printed books. Here comes Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and especially mobile technologies to make this process more efficient.
Success of ICT for Development (ICT4D) in the financial sector
ICT can support the work of companies at the BoP, nothing new about that. Several studies based on real cases already showed just that:
- Leveraging Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for the Base of the Pyramid (BoP)
- E-transform Africa World Bank
However, deployment at scale is rare. In the financial sector, M-PESA in Kenya is the best known example facilitating money transfer via SMS throughout the country. FINO in India has also reached millions of customers providing a full portfolio of financial services like insurance.
Mobile force for Agri-businesses
Early successes of using ICT for BoP agri-business are also emerging. Companies like Esoko in Africa provide a technology platform that helps organizations profile people and manage the information flows between them, especially targeted farmers. A virtual market place is part of the Esoko solution.
Mobile technologies are extremely powerful when many actors or a lot of information are at play. This is the case in most BoP agri-businesses that have to reach a force of small holder farmers, but also a sale or distribution force often composed of BoP people. A new report on marketing for the poor highlights that “it is worth investing in mobile sale force for the BoP”. There lies the next major opportunity for ICT for Development: to enable the efficient implementation of BoP mobile forces. In our business pilot in Vietnam, we apply this concept by using mobile technologies to link small holder farmers, a team of agronomists from our partners and a pool of small vegetable shops in Hanoi that will buy the produced goods.
1/3, 1/3, 1/3
To successfully implement our mobile solution in Vietnam, to get the technology right (1/3) (which mobile platform, which user interface …) is surely key. But it appears to be the easy part of the equation in a country where 3G access is almost guaranteed everywhere. What is actually much more challenging, is to get the soft part of the equation solved: BoP forces need to be aware (1/3) of the power of mobile technology and they need to be empowered (1/3) to use it. Often taking for granted, this soft element makes implementation successful or not. In our business pilot in Vietnam, we rely on a trained task force of agronomists, who are able to use new technologies and make the link to small holder farmers. We also involve BoP farmers and agronomist in the design of the solution, to ensure maximum acceptance and relevance.
The real test will be in June during the first vegetable harvest. But in the meantime let’s get mobile! May the digital force at the BoP be with you.
Nicolas Chevrollier is program manager at the BoP Innovation Center.
Pictures: Sigrid Wertheim, Fresh Studio