Will it rain today? The weather, straight to your Inbox

‘I would have lost a total of 7 acres of various commodities, mostly maize, but for the timely weather advice I received from Esoko. All my peers who went in to plant without the information have lost all their crops due to the unpredictable rains.”

-Abdul-Rahman Inusah, Kanponyili, Northern Ghana

storm-field-41444

Every farmer needs rain, but even rain at the wrong time can destroy harvests, waste pesticides and seeds, and leave farmers without money – or options. With increasing inconsistencies in weather patterns, climate advisory services are becoming a necessity in rural agricultural communities.

Esoko started many years ago building the technology that allowed organizations to send their farmers relevant prices over SMS. Though delivering prices remains a key component of our platform, we’ve learned from farmers about these more sophisticated content needs – content that will help with their production, not just their marketing. That content is focussed on localized diseases, inputs, and of course, weather.

Continue reading

Advertisements

What’s voice got to do with it?

esoko call centerOur Farmer Helpline team in Accra has been answering calls for six months now. If this is the first you’ve heard of it, you may be wondering what a company known for their SMS based platform is doing operating a call center. The short answer is this: we’re still big believers in the power of SMS to exchange information in rural areas, but we increasingly see helplines as a compliment to any SMS service. Here’s why voice plays an important role:

1) Farmers are struggling with using ever-more sophisticated seeds, pesticides and fertilizers; 2) Farmers depend on the rains for theirs livelihoods, and are trying to manage an increasingly unpredictable weather cycle; 3) Public extension services are struggling to keep up, with each officer in Ghana serving as many as 3,000 farmers; and 4) illiterate and semi-literate farmers, often women, need an easy to access and consistent source of information too.

Continue reading

Coordinating with SMS: Flies, Mangos and mAgric

Brought to us by CEO Mark Davies on the heels of a trip to Burkina Faso. 

Technology discovers itself through use. A truism to be sure, but it really is fascinating how technology designers are educated by the unintended uses of what they’ve built. Good technologists know that the best way to improve their product is to spread it and observe, then be responsive when the market guides them. Those who seek to perfect an idea in the office and assume it will be used as intended have surprises in store.

As in, we’ve had a significant number of farmers talk about how price discovery has helped them in their marriages. And last week, a farmer called our call centre for a weather forecast because he was about to plaster and paint his house.

Esoko started out as a market price discovery tool to help farmers negotiate better prices. It’s come a long way since then. Here’s one example of how:

Last month I was in Burkina Faso, selecting a private partner to take over the project that was launched and run by MCA for the last three years. We decided to visit Bobo-Dioulassou in the west of the country – it’s the economic capital as well as the heart of the mango sector. I met with UNPMB (Union Nationale des Producteurs de Mangue du Burkina), a large association of mango growers that represents about a third of the industry in Burkina, or 4,000 growers out of an estimated national count of 15,000. It was a standard meeting to check in with Esoko clients so I could better understand how they’re using the platform and what services they needed. I didn’t expect to learn anything that I hadn’t picked up from other farming associations in the past, but I was mistaken.

Continue reading

Evil Weevil, or Vani’s Adventures North

Vani on  her new tractor Because of close to zero background in agriculture & because Esoko’s service offerings are mainly in the field of agriculture, I decided to (read as ‘forced to’) venture on this 3 days trip to Tamale. As part of the USAID accelerator program (in the Northern part of Ghana) we are supposed to interview agribusinesses & farmers to enroll them onto the program. And that’s how I got to fulfill my wish of learning a little more about agriculture. And the fact that Mark & Stephen were present throughout made it even better.

Flight to Tamale from Accra was a quickie. It’s just an hour and the airport is in the middle of nowhere with I think just one air strip. Stephen (in charge of the accelerator program) who had gone ahead of us met us there and we embarked on this “trying to learn more about Agriculture” journey.

I liked Tamale instantly! The town is clean and a lot greener (in comparison to Accra), roads are wide, women on their mopeds riding with such joy. The first interview Stephen arranged was with a farmer based organization (FBO) called ZOCOFFAMS (mind you, that’s an acronym and I can’t recall what it stands for, and there are plenty more to come). On our way to their office Stephen tells us that ZOCOFFAMS managed over 2000 farmers and also act as aggregators (get in touch with me if you don’t know what aggregators mean) I was for some strange reason expecting to meet this typical big shot type of person in a suit and tie, decent office, air conditioning etc.

Reaching the rural farmer with modern technology

Over the years innovation has driven the development of new tools and services to tackle different areas of the agricultural value chain…now including, of course, exciting new technologies using mobile phones. All of these innovations aim to improve food production and security, the livelihoods of individual farmers, and the business of farming in general. But the majority of food production remains in the hands of rural farmers who have little or no access to these quickly moving we-can’t-wait-for-anyone technologies. So one big question remains unanswered: Why are the best technologies not reaching smallholder farmers? And how do we ensure that the technologies are relevant to the farming community and actually improving the livelihoods of farmers? Isaac Boateng (IB) and Philip Asihene (PA) of the Esoko monitoring and evaluation team share some insights.

Esoko: What are some of the challenges you face out there in the field? 

PA
: Lack of education and high rates of illiteracy are major problems. Though almost all farmers Esoko has dealt with have mobile phones and have access to phones, only a few know how to use the phones apart from making and receiving calls. Many cannot read and write and so understanding the messages we send them is difficult – some have to rely on the educated friends, children or others to interpret for them.

Isaac with a cassava farmer

Isaac with a cassava farmer

Esoko: Do you face any challenges from the mobile network operators? 

PA: I think our major problem is the fact that some of the farming areas are still out the coverage areas of these networks, and some areas just have poor network coverage. Sometimes we see farmers standing at specific points in their community to get connected. Imagine the sight of about 20 people stationed at a point and making calls, checking or sending messages. This limits the effectiveness of any technology solution deployed on the mobile phone.

Continue reading

Coming Out (My Esoko Story)

David!I joined Esoko 3 months ago. Before joining the organization, I always saw the building on my way home from school, orange and white, and tall. I thought it was a software development firm; which is not completely far from the truth. Anyways, an opening in the communications department, freshly out of a communications school, an interview and a test later I got the job as a communication officer. Now I read about Esoko before my interview (obviously), so I knew it was not just developing software and collecting data prices but was heavily invested in changing the lives of small holder farmers and helping the growth of the agricultural value chain. It was all so nice in abstract and theory. Working here, I read a lot of success stories, case studies and heard Mark Davies, the CEO and other members of the team talk about the impact we were making. I got it and yet I didn’t get it. It was all like “ok so we are changing the lives of farmers, people can now make intelligent buying and selling decisions”… all nice, but it was on paper and it was people involved in the process who were telling me this. Like you know, blowing their own trumpet and stuff… ah well it sounded nice theoretically.
Three months after joining Esoko, our colleagues from our new office in Kenya came down for a visit to see how Esoko Ghana went about operations and to basically get acquainted with the platform. So as part of their visit, we arranged for Paolo, (MD of the Kenya office) and Clem (the Kenyan Sales Manager) to visit one of our beneficiary farms in Esueshia, in the Central region. When Vani, the head of Client Service told me about the trip and asked if the communications team (Garrett and I) would like to join, I was ecstatic. I was practically like a grade school kid going on his first field trip.

Continue reading

Impact in 2012 – a snapshot

Sara Maunda made $130 instead of $27 after receiving and using Esoko price alerts.

Sara Maunda made $130 instead of $27 after receiving and using Esoko price alerts.

As we come to the end the year, here’s a snapshot of how users are benefiting from Esoko across the continent.

In Malawi, Sara used to accept whatever price a local trader offered her. This time, she had an SMS telling her that less than 40 miles away in Lilongwe, the price for groundnuts which she was selling, was about .75 cents – more than 4 times the price a vendor was offering. She travelled to Lilongwe and sold 150 kg earning about $130 dollars after costs – if she had sold to the vendor she would have made $27 dollars. “I would have sold to him if it weren’t for the fact that I knew what the price was in Lilongwe through the messages I got from Esoko.”

In Uganda, Paul’s birds had cut their egg production from 69% to 40%. He received a message from Novus Neno Uganda and followed the nutritional advice. The results were amazing. “My birds can now afford to pay for their feeds and also pay something for my household.”

In Malawi, Land O’Lakes International Development designed 10-minute radio sessions on dairy production and marketing to improve waning milk yields, and used Esoko to set-up and deploy a series of SMS messages that informed isolated farmers of the program’s start times and reminded them of what was discussed. Through this, Land O’Lakes linked over 900 farmer-members to valuable farming and business information which they previously struggled to obtain.

And in Ghana, Mad. Grace used to buy 200 bags of maize each for GH₵70 in the Kwame Danso market (Brong Ahafo). It cost her GH₵7 to transport each bag to Kumasi (Ashanti). Through the ADVANCE project, she got an SMS from Esoko telling her that a bag of maize cost GH₵65 in the Ejura (Ashanti) market and after enquiries she realised that transporting each bag from Ejura to Kumasi would cost her GH₵5. Armed with this new information, Grace switched markets and now saves GH₵1400 on each round of trading activity.

Teach a Man to Text

Nicole Hildebrandt is a New York University/Center for Technology and Economic Development doctoral student working on a randomized control trial (RCT) on Esoko in Ghana. These are notes after her recent experience training farmers with the Esoko team. Thanks to CTED for the repost. 

Nicole observing farmers write a text message.

Nicole observing farmers write a text message.

It’s a challenge without any easy solutions.  I saw this first-hand at the Esoko training sessions I observed last month.  In the four-hour training sessions for the treatment group, the first three hours were devoted to Cell Phones 101 (how to navigate the menu, add a contact, check in Inbox, draft a message, and finally press “Send”).  Only the last hour was spent discussing the actual content of the Esoko messages, and how to use the information to obtain higher prices…and that was by far the portion of the training that was easiest for people to absorb. As a (late) twenty-something from the US, I’ve basically grown up using a mobile phone, so it’s hard for me to understand how people can not know how to send a text message (come on, mom, it’s not that hard!).  I think most people in my age cohort – and certainly all those high school and college kids out there who seem to be able to text without even looking at the screen – feel the same way.  Which was why I got some funny looks a few weeks back when I told friends that I was going to Ghana to help teach the farmers in our Esoko RCT how to send and receive a text message.

“You really have to teach a class on that?” Continue reading

Impact in 2010 – a snapshot

jonathanJonathan Abudu, Salaga, Ghana

Jonathan cultivates yam tubers. When a buyer came to his small community quoting a very low price, Jonathon sent an SMS price request into Esoko. Realizing the prices in Accra were far higher, and that even paying transport he would make much more for his tubers if he sent them himself, he did just that. His 300 tubers, sold in Accra, gave him 104 extra Ghana cedis than what he would have made if he sold close to his farm. He says that using Esoko brings him confidence selling that he has never experienced before.
chiefChief Saaka Mahama, Salaga, Ghana

Chief Saaka Mahama, a village chief from Northern Ghana, has been negotiating better deals for his harvests using Esoko price alerts. He recently refused to sell to a buyer who came to his village to buy cashews–citing his Esoko SMS message about the current price in Yendi market, Chief sent him away empty handed. One week later, the buyer returned and bought at Chief’s price, giving Chief an extra 100 cedis (70 USD).

 

Continue reading