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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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).

 

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