MIS Practitioners: Don’t Be Defined by Our History

Brought to us by Mark Davies – market information obsessed anthropologist & technologist (and incidentally the founder/CEO of Esoko).

mark_daviesRecently at a UNECA workshop in Addis I was challenged by Vincent Fautrel of CTA (the Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU) about Esoko’s strategy. I had been talking about the new products and services that we were planning to introduce to serve businesses and organizations, and Vincent wondered whether or not Esoko would continue to serve the needs of smallholder farmers. It’s a valid question. The reason I think it’s worth writing about here is because I think buried within that question are key issues about market demand, product vision and the evolution of MIS, so I wanted to pull out a few threads and pick them up here.

Vincent was also surprised to hear me talk about this as an ‘industry’, and questioned the validity of that term. But I’m convinced more than ever that there is an industry of information products serving agricultural communities expanding quickly in Africa. It’s exciting, confusing and we’ve got very few points of reference to guide us as we navigate through this period of innovation and disruption.

So why does the community still remain so poorly documented, and so clearly misunderstood? Even by those of us practicing within it? I would suggest there are two areas that are confusing us and we need to think big about both: history and technology.

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Who’s behind Sudan’s MIS?

Under the Food Security Project in Northern Sudan, FAO Sudan will soon begin a deployment of Esoko’s web and mobile Market Information System as the FAMIS (Food and Agriculture Market Information System) portion of the overall Food Security project. This project is being implemented through the local ministries in the fifteen northern Sudanese states. The service will be known as Esook, ‘sook’ being the Arabic word for market, with ‘e’ added for ‘electronic’. These are some of the character behind it. 

Yahia Awad, MIS Manager

yahiaIt seems that Yahia Awad, the MIS manager for FAO-Sudan’s Northern Food Security Project (SIFSIA), has been on a clear trajectory in his career to get to exactly where he is today. After decades working inside the Northern Sudanese Ministry of Agriculture in various capacities and then years in the private sector at a large agricultural export company, Yahia has joined the SIFSIA team to lead the MIS component of the project, and most importantly, to make sure that the project becomes not only sustainable but also profitable in the end. His aim is to make the service unquestionably relevant for users across Northern Sudan so that in time there is a viable business in place; one that thrives because it is held accountable to the needs of its customers. His unique perspective and experience in the private sector help him to regard every decision and every bit of information with a different eye than most in his field. The success of any large MIS deployment is dependent upon, first and foremost, having a tireless and dedicated leader who has the ability to work with all facets of the local agricultural community with ease–farmers, traders, associations, businesses and government. In the very particular context of Northern Sudan this understanding is even more essential, and Yahia’s experience and presence of mind make the future of MIS in Northern Sudan look promising indeed. Look for Esook to go public with their MIS services by the end of this year, with Yahia quietly behind every strategic move.