Friday, 26 July 2013

Mobile network operators have much to gain from agriculture

Ghana's six mobile network operators have been slow to take advantage of agricultural value chains in the promotion of mobile services.
Ghana’s six mobile network operators have been slow to take advantage of agricultural value chains in the provision of mobile services.
Visit Ghana and ask for the phone number of any ordinary person on the street, and most likely you’ll be given the option of two or three different mobile network operators (MNOs) to choose from. Ghana has 19 million cell phone subscribers for its over 24 million inhabitants — an impressive proportion — most of whom subscribe to more than one operator. 
Ghana is one of Africa’s most vibrant and innovative communications markets. It launched the first cellular mobile network in sub-Saharan Africa in 1992, and was one of the first countries on the continent to be connected to the Internet and introduce ADSL services. A market leader in terms of liberalization and deregulation, Ghana Telecom in 1996.
Ghana is serviced by six MNOs, including: Scancom (MTN) with 50% of the market share; Millicom (Tigo), 21%; Vodafone Mobile, 18%; Bharti Airtel, 10%; and Expresso and Glo, the most recent additions with the smallest market shares.
In mid-2010 the voice market reached more than 70% penetration, but huge potential still exists for the 3G broadband services that were launched in 2009.

Mobile services

In terms of economic impact, the telecoms sector has contributed significantly to the country’s increase in GDP over the past twenty years and there is still massive room for growth. The question, then, is how many of these businesses have ever rolled out an innovation to support agriculture?
Value-added services such as mobile money have created jobs in the telecommunications and banking sectors as well as for the more than 4000 merchants in Ghana’s mobile money system. MTN’s Mobile Money was the first mobile or branchless banking  initiative in the country and operates in partnership with nine of Ghana’s banks. They currently have more than two million active users and MTN expects this number to grow through the education of subscribers on the benefits of switching from cash payments to electronic ones.
But outreach activities rarely address the needs of our smallholder farmers. Is it because MNOs consider farmers to be poor to use the services, or perhaps not sufficiently savvy on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)?

Operator Risks

Risks factors for mobile banking operators come in the form of strategic, reputational, compliance and operational risks. Operators need to keep a close eye on their outsourced providers, ensuring their activities are consistent with the overall strategic goals of the regulated entity — a task that may not be easy in the isolated, rural areas where most of our smallholders are located.
The same is true of reputational threats, which come in the form of poor service via third-party agents or consumer experiences that are inconsistent with the overall standards of the operator. Operators may have difficulties with ensuring that privacy, consumer and prudential laws are complied with at all times.
Operational risks are usually the biggest risk to operators. Technology failure, human error, cyber fraud, agent fraud, insecurity and unreliability of services and lack of customer education are just a number of factors that put operators at risk when lending their services to all users, smallholder farmers included.

Operator benefits and Africa’s booming mobile market

With so many potential risks, what are the incentives for getting involved in mobile services?
The simple answer is to have the ability to reach millions of new customers and offer a multitude of services from bank loans to account payments. Or, let’s not forget, to supply vital agricultural updates that could improve the quality of lives of millions of people and assist in the economic growth of many countries.
The rapid growth of the mobile market across Africa has had a positive impact on the continent’s economic growth. As the telecommunication sector grows, jobs are created not just within the MNOs, but also for their agents and supply chain partners.
Local businesses are benefiting from mobile banking as payments are easily made in the business to business and business to customer arena. Mobile application development has resulted in initiatives which have a massive effect on agriculture, medicine and the non-profit sector.
My worry is this: During the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6) conference held recently  in Accra, Ghana, over 90 booths were sponsored by exhibitors attempting to speak to the theme of the event, “Africa feeding Africa through agricultural science and innovation.” Fascinating technologies like the the all new ‘fufu’ making machine and fresh research findings like the “Push-Pull” strategy for pest management were exhibited by individuals, institutions and research organizations from Africa and the world over.
Among all these happenings, I failed to recognize any of the booths being occupied by an MNO. Maybe they don’t have anything to exhibit. But farmers use their services too — so why aren’t they here?
Full inclusion of the various mobile money services in the agricultural value chain could benefit both farmer livelihoods and the bottom line of mobile operators.  I am of the strong opinion that its about time that MNOs are tasked with factoring farmers in to their innovation strategies. Maybe in three years’ time, at the next AASW, we’ll see a couple of MNO booths in the lineup.
Blogpost by Nana Darko, Rite 90.1 FM and a social media reporter for AASW6.
Photo: W. Vota

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The rise of the matriarch

What would a women-led society look like?
What would a women-led society look like?
Imagine a community where women are the leaders at all levels, where all major decisions affecting the communities are taken by women, and men are only allowed minimal participation in advisory roles. Then imagine a community founded by women, populated by women only, and endowed with natural resources so well-managed that it becomes a tourist attraction and luxury destination. Men have to beg and plead to live there, and are granted permission only on certain terms.
Perhaps this seems like a scene out of a play (could it be Wives’ Revolt by the great Nigerian writer J.P. Clark?), or a wild dream of an over-enthusiastic feminist. Many would find it hard to even entertain such a thought, but the truth is that we may not be so far away from such a reality.
Take the example of a village community in the protected Amerindian area of French Guaina, where women were at one point in time compelled to assert themselves and take over the position of the village head from the men. The former village head – a man – was collecting bribes from illegal gold-miners who were wantonly eleasing mercury into the environment, polluting the river and poisoning the fish that were a significant source of the community’s food.
The women were enraged when they started giving birth to deformed babies as a result of the mercury-poisoned water and fish and their teratogenic effects. So they installed a woman as the village head (and banished the illegal miners from the community) with the argument that no local woman would ever go ahead with collecting bribe from the illegal miners. The implications on child-bearing and the well-being of the community were too great.
In another scenario, in a Maasai community in Kenya, women who were repeatedly abused by their husbands joined together, moved out, founded their own community. The women’s community was so well-managed and successful that it became a tourist destination and the men had to appeal for permission to live among them. Sound familiar?
Before you get carried away with the thrills of the stories, consider quickly the implication of women community leadership on agriculture and food security, taking into account the statistics in a recent post I wrote on the AASW6 blog. Envision what the state of food security in Africa (and the world) would be like if women, the “real” food producers, became decision makers and had equitable access to land and other resources for production and trade.
Visualize what future communities (and cities) would look like if women–as children-bearers, homemakers, care-givers, food producers, great managers, and leaders–also had the political power to make the big decisions that affect them and their children. Consider these possibilities vis-à-vis the world’s issues with hunger, pollution, and climate change.
Consider these things, then tell me your thoughts, ideas, dreams, and visions. I want to know: Should women have the power in the communities of the future?
Blogpost by Bunmi Ajilore, a social media reporter for AASW6.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

No weakest link in the future of African agriculture

Naomi Sakana of IFPRI with ILRI's Ewen Le Borgne at AASW6. Forging partnerships between stakeholders is the key to a productive future, and the real value of the AASW6 conference.
Naomi Sakana of IFPRI with ILRI’s Ewen Le Borgne at AASW6. Forging partnerships between stakeholders is the key to a productive future, and the real value of the AASW6 conference.
When things come to an end, it is inevitable that one begins to look to the future.
Several things came to an end this week: The 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6)  in Accra, Ghana, for one, just closed the curtains on a frenzied week of activity; Professor Monty Jones, outgoing Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), officially handed over the reins to his successor at the end of the same week; and, well, France quashed England’s run for a women’s Euros football championship with a 3-0 win, if anyone was keeping track.
The third item aside, what do these other finales mean for the future of FARA, and for the future of its most anticipated triennial event, the AASW?

Value chains link production and competition

In an interview at AASW6, Professor Jones left no doubt as to where we should be heading in agricultural research for development (AR4D), and not just for FARA but for the whole continent. “For a long time in Africa,” said Professor Jones, “all we were thinking of was production, production, production. We have to start thinking beyond that now.”
He was referring to the evolution of the concept of integrated AR4D, that is, research that leans on the principles of the value chain approach to technology generation, dissemination and adoption. The value chain includes everyone: researchers, extension officers, producers, consumers, businessmen, and policy makers. The idea is for these actors to join together and create platforms to advise the agricultural sector.
Professor Jones gave a practical example: “In one instance we stimulated the increase in production of sorghum in Uganda by 60%. In fact, there was such an increase that farmers could no longer sell all their produce.”
If farmers are given all the input and support in the world, remarked Professor Jones, but at the end of the day can’t even sell what they produce, then what good is it?
So, he continued, “The platform came together to say, why not add value to the product? They gotMakerere University and the private sector involved, and they ended up producing a beverage they called Mamera drink that they started selling in supermarkets.” At the end of the day, everyone went home a winner.
The point, concluded Professor Jones, is that, sure, FARA and its partners should think of increasing productivity. “But they should also be thinking of the competitiveness of the system. We’re starting to move away from farming just for subsistence now, so we have to think about more than just productivity.” Labor efficiency. Quality of produce. Food safety. Processing. Handling. Exporting. That’s the future of African agriculture.

 But it’s the human connections that make it all possible

Perhaps the most pressing question as AASW6 draws to a close is, what is the value of such an event for furthering the goals that Professor Jones mentions?
You might say that it’s something to the same tune as the integration called for FARA’s value chain approach to AR4D. Linking people, forging partnerships, and “ensuring that everyone that wants to participate in African agriculture is included in the process of identifying the key issues” is where the true value of the AASW6 conference lies, in Professor Jones’ opinion.
Indeed, FARA’s future direction was never more clearly laid out than during AASW6, which served as the venue for the definition of the Forum’s new science agenda for the coming years. The agenda includes, for the first time, the key content and type of science that will need to be undertaken in the short, medium and long term to be able to feed Africa, and feed the rest of the world as well.
“Our challenge,” asserted Professor Jones, “is to recognize the fact that Africa cannot feed itself today, but that it must do everything it can to be able to feed the 2 billion Africans that will be here by 2050.”
If AASW6 was any indication, then making the right connections – be they human connections or links in a value chain – is the only way to proceed towards that noble goal.
Blogpost by Caity Peterson, a social media reporter for AASW6.
Photo: P. Karaimu (ILRI)

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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Targeting and Financing of Agricultural Research in Africa: The Great Paradox

    23 Jul 2013 by Maxwell Mkondiwa
    Agricultural Research for Development's future: begging?The impact assessment studies on agricultural research in Africa (in most commodities including Rice, Maize) have shown  huge payoffs, more than any other investments, reaching rates of return of more than 100%. It is however, necessary to note that impacts of agricultural research have long time lags from initial investment to actually reaping the benefits. This is exacerbated by market failures and adoption constraints. As such any attempt to see impact on development objectives like poverty reduction within 1-5 years is misplaced.
    It is the agricultural research investments we make now that will determine the future productivity and resilience of the agro-ecosystems. Our neglect of agricultural research investments in 1970s have partially resulted in the dismal performance of agricultural systems in sub-Saharan Africa we experience now.
    I intently observed, listened and contemplated on all the deliberations during the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week. I was amazed by what people know and yet change seems to be dismal.

    More investment needed

    One thing was clear from all the discussions, Africa needs to step up its investment in agricultural research. Africa already enjoys the research spill overs from research elsewhere and as the former Executive Director of FARA, Prof. Monty Jones reiterated; “If Brazil has developed a well performing variety; we don’t need here in Africa to re-invest the wheel by producing our own similar variety. We can save a lot of resources both in time and finances by adapting the variety to local conditions”. This is very possible if thehuman and financial capacity of national research systems is up-scaled and maintained.

    The need to contextualize

    In essence, African scientists need required skills of contextualizing both technological and social innovations from elsewhere and most importantly as they emanate from the local farmers themselves. Thus we need skills in targeting agricultural research and the technologies to specific contexts.
    The keynote address by the IFAD President and a presentation by Dr. John Dixon of ACIAR  underscored the wonders that developing optimal combinations of existing technologies and management systems can have in reducing poverty if applied to their specific contexts.
    We have seen this working in micro-dosing of fertilizers in Rice fields in Vietnam, Indonesia and Burkina Faso. With the available ICT and software power, we have tools to develop optimal combinations that can reduce poverty. Why are we as agricultural researchers failing to do this?

    Contextualizing: why are we failing to do this?

    Firstly, agricultural researchers are extremely good at confining themselves in their comfort zone and thus keep a blind eye of other sub-systems that complement their area of expertise. A breeder is always looking for the next high yielding variety in the pipeline regardless of contexts for the existing varieties and the social systems. This applies to other professionals as well. Africa needs not only researchers who work with other scientists in an interdisciplinary manner but rather those who are able to analyse the whole farming systems because they are interdisciplinary themselves.
    The second challenge is the nature of agricultural research projects that are being implemented: normally spanning only a few years and disconnected to what others have done previously. This entails that there is little understanding of contexts and identification of principles relevant to take successful technologies to scale.

    The future we want for agricultural research: begging?

    In terms of both targeting and financing of research, agricultural researchers have a huge task of focusing on research that is relevant to the farmers and other end users. National governments have a responsibility not only to dedicate 10% of national budgets to the agricultural sector but also ensuring that there is enough funding for research that will enhance the sustainability of the gains from increased agricultural funding.  With national governments having other priorities to fund from limited finances, it is time agricultural researchers also start thinking of how they can make their research more beneficial to end users and ultimately regenerate financial resources to fund the sub-sequent programmes.
    This can happen through proper targeting and scaling of agricultural research thus allowing us to gain levies from high value research and subsidize the poverty reducing agriculture research.

    Wake-up call!

    While attending the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week was a great opportunity for young agricultural researchers to learn and share their knowledge, it was also a wake-up call on the future we want for agricultural research in Africa.
    Is it the one where we run around busy chasing (begging in the name of networking) for funds or isn’t it? Or the one in which we think agricultural research and development initiatives are beneficial because they can create their own wealth? We may not have the answers at hand but it’s something we need to deeply think of. What are your thoughts on this?
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    24 Jul 2013ndivine

    Greetings from YPARD Cameroon

    Dear Max,
    This is a great domain or thematic to focus on because with Finance we can not forge ahead with ARD .
    I am equally ahppy to share with you that during the AASW my presentation was based on this to enhance sustainable agriculturale among young professionals.
    That said and one lets keep the flag of YPARD hosted across our nations.
    Look forward working with you .
    YPARD CR ,Cameroon