Following the launch of the program in June, the year 2012 was busy and exciting for the Agri-Fin Mobile team. Already a month in 2013, we would like to reflect on some of the lessons that we have learned in implementing the program in Indonesia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. We would like to wish all our stakeholders a prosperous 2013, and hope that our relationships established in 2012 will continue to grow.
Between August and November the Agri-Fin Mobile program conducted three baseline and product development surveys in Indonesia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The objective was to identify services that are not being offered to smallholder farmers by current providers in an effective manner, and the problems that may be encountered in providing such services through mobile phones. From the surveys, the program realized value in conducting large‐scale, multi‐site research studies by working with a team of different backgrounds and experiences. Working with teams members with backgrounds in agriculture, marketing, finance and communications the program avoided a parochial approach in conducting a complex study of this nature. In-fact, it resulted in firm commitments from all the team members engaged. The program came to the conclusion that that teaming as a practice during big baseline surveys saves on time, money, and energy and provides enormous gains in terms of professional reward and quality research.
In conducting the surveys, the sampling approach used by the program allowed data from micro level to be generalized to higher levels of aggregation. There was also adherence to standard formats and definitions of terms across countries, documenting and using data in ways that facilitated its widespread use, and careful examination of assumptions that made the results universally accepted.
The way the program tools were designed also allowed the collection of data in such a way that made comparisons possible across the three countries of operation. To keep this feasible it was important to exercise considerable forethought in the design of the survey tools. If concepts are defined in similar ways and data is recorded in a comparable fashion, the data from disparate micro studies can be combined for various types of meta-analysis. This was particularly useful for analyzing the “big issues” that might not have been addressed within a single micro study in a single country. If the surveys were not designed to be compatible, ex post analysis would have been difficult across countries.
During the year the program carried out a partner selection process in order to understand the unique value proposition that each partner can bring into the program; the financial incentive to keep partners engaged; the constraints to business operations; how partners can leverage off each other’s strengths and what roles they should each play in delivering services to farmers. In Uganda and Indonesia, the program noted that the market leaders in the financial and telecommunication sectors have a high aversion to risk and are not actively exploring new, innovative approaches to serving the lower end markets especially in the low-margin agriculture value chains. Moreover, on the tail end of the production process, is the fact that the produce buyer and input dealer markets are very fragmented with weak distribution channels and “unhealthy” competition; so these need to be woven together to drive transactions leading to increased revenue for the different partners.
Other lessons learned included:
*Each partner must recognize the business case and be willing to co-invest;
*The channel to smallholder farmers is a key priority, so always look for opportunities to integrate multiple channels to increase distribution of advisory information and services to farmers to drive adoption;
*Seek partners that are umbrella organizations for producers, buyers or input suppliers in order to reach a higher number of beneficiaries with minimal resources. Umbrella organizations can also help influence members, aggregate impact as well as ensure that the program is not providing unfair advantage or discouraging competition among industries;
*Transaction volumes are critical, look out for areas to start with which drive transactions and therefore usage, hence working with produce buyers at the tail end of production and input suppliers at the beginning of production, as well as working in value chains that have on-going or multiple harvest periods per year, such as horticulture or dairy.
We look forward to a productive 2013!