Esoko: Partnership with MNOs for Ag. Mobile Service is a Challenge!

Photo Credit: Esoko

(Originally Posted on GBI Portal by Benjamin K Addom)

A Partner Director at Esoko, Laura Drewett says one of the challenges being faced by Esoko as a technology company in developing and deploying mobile services to rural communities, is partnering with Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). Drewett was speaking at the January 06 2012 GBI TechTalk this time co-hosted by the USAID’s  Fostering Agriculture Competitiveness Employing Information Communication Technologies (FACET) project.

She argued that negotiations with MNOs for partnership to provide services to rural communities could take years. Laura who manages Esoko’s international operations, partner deployments, and franchises mentioned other challenges as low literacy among users, and Ghana’s “theory-based” educational system which calls for further investment in training local developers from the country’s higher education institutions.

Background of Esoko

Giving the background to the company, the partner director stated that Esoko started out as Tradenet with merely 2 staff members in a tiny room by collecting price information on mobiles and disseminating but currently occupies 4 levels in one of the expensive buildings in Accra with over 65 software developers who are mostly Ghanaian. The company is now in 16 countries (will be 20 this year), deployed under a franchise arrangement in all but Ghana.

Photo Credit: Esoko

Why Esoko?

Laura says farmers lack prices, traders need transport and new contacts, projects and governments need a better way to reach out to people, businesses lack real-time updates on their stock and the value of their harvests. Esoko is a communication platform using web and SMS that helps link all of these actors and allows them to exchange information affordably and quickly. Esoko provides a range of applications that both push updates out to the field, and, more importantly, pull data in from the field. Being better informed helps everyone along the value chain and can play a vital role to improve how markets operate. The market information system by Esoko is country driven.

Services

As a mobile service managed through the web with no required special hardware or software for the client, Esoko provides SMS messaging, SMS price alerts, SMS bids and offers, SMS polls, SME websites, Maps, Upload via SMS/web and inventory reporting. The company offers training supports for the use of technologies, and business model and franchising.

Esoko has a subscription model covering four key target groups. Bronze subscription for individual farmers, researchers and traders;  silver for small businesses and exporters; gold for farmer groups, medium size businesses and small NGOs; and platinum for large businesses, NGO, governments, etc. and provides business strategy and financial models that will help you design your business and reach profitability.

These subscriptions are mostly paid for by the partners on behalf of their users (farmers) even though some individual farmers and traders are also paying for the services.

Does it Work?

Photo Credit: Esoko

Sharing some of the success stories of the users of the platform, Drewett stated that even though they don’t have “statistical” evidence based results the impact of their service on farmers, studies carried by the company and another independent study show that farmers are benefiting from the use of the service. One social impact of the service reported by a farmer in Ghana is that as a result of the Esoko service, there is peace in their marriage. This is because the husband is able to monitor the price at the market and estimate the revenue of their produce even before the wife goes to the market.


Questions and concerns from the participants included the extension of their MIS service to provision of production information for farmers; the extent to which such detailed information can be transmitted through text; issues of privacy of data for farmers; the company’s view on the role of commodity exchange platforms such Ethiopian Commodity Exchange for MIS, among others.

The next GBI TECHTalk will be Jan 25 at noon, and will focus on working with MNOs. Visit GBITechTalks.eventbrite.com to find out more and register!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Thanks Ben. My organisation, Knowledge Transfer Africa (Pvt) Ltd is part of a consortium that has been awarded a Licence to roll out the Esoko model in Zimbabwe (which we are calling eMusika because Musika means Market in the predominantly). Shona language. I personally have been leading negotiations with Mobile Network Operators. Since February this year, we are still negotiating. Can you imagine the loss of time and effort. These people don’t seem to appreciate a business model which they have not dreamt up themselves. Another issue relates to competition between MNOs. The kind of service we are about to offer cuts across all mobile service providers because farmers and other value chain actors have mobile lines from all the three providers. Because they have been used to working separately, our model forces them to be under one roof BUT the bigger mobile service provider seems uninterested in a model that ensures collaboration with the other two smaller network providers.

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