21 July 2009

Mobile phones: Opportunities and challenges for AgInfo in Africa

Mark Davies (Esoko) and Sean Paavo Krepp (Nokia) were panellists in a session on 'public private partnership in m-agriculture'at the recent IAALD Africa conference in Accra.

Our starting point was the mobile phone. According to Mark Davies: "The opportunity that the mobile device presents is amazing"... we are "now beginning to get really powerful communication devices in the hands of people through the country."

Sean Paavo Krepp introduced Nokia, emphasizing to this audience of agricultural information and communication specialists that he sees many opportunities to work together, marrying content creators and mobile phones.

“We see ourselves as a media company” ... “I see this device [his phone] as an opportunity to communicate and interact with people worldwide.” With Nokia providing approximately 25% of the 4 billion mobile phones worldwide, this “makes us a potentially very interesting company to work with...”

Mentioning that more than a third of Africans already use mobile phones, and the declining costs of ownership - in some countries it is already less than $5 a month, Krepp predicted that they will soon be in the hands of everyone.

He argued that “the next frontier, I think, is mobile services” [on mobile handsets]. However, he mentioned, we need to overcome huge infrastructure, language, literacy, and income challenges.

Introducing Nokia Life Tools, he pointed out that Nokia's “effort is to go as local as possible” - in three areas: agriculture, education, and entertanment.

In agriculture, mobile phones are seen as a personal companion for farmers – a tool that is well-suited to support them along their cropping lifecycles – sowing, growing, harvesting, and selling (see example from India).

Key challenges encountered so far are "content, content, content" that people trust, is easy to use, is in digital formats, is timely, high quality, not too much, is localized, is customised, and is low cost. All of these, together, are a meaure of the 'relevance' of the content.

He argued that "such 'relevance' can only be achieved through partnerships" ... and that Nokia won't be able to generate all this itself. Hence the opportunities for others, especially those with the 'relevant content' needed by the farmers.

Mark Davies expressed a note of caution. Reflecting on his experience with market information systems, he stated: “as far as I am concerned, there is very little content out there that works for the people ... so we have to repurpose all of it.”

His Esoko platform is therefore largely moving from public to private information sources. He did wonder though if the best approach is perhaps “to allow everybody to upload content and let consumers sort it out”... to let the consumer vote with their feet.

One million dollar question is therefore whether the current content creators and providers can actually provide this 'relevant' information in forms that Nokia can use. Whether such partnerships between private AgInfo service providers and public content providers are likely to take off without some fundamental changes in the capacities and products of the public organizations.

Beyond the need to create content and make it accessible, the mobile phone is opening up other possibilities. According to Davies: "we suddenly realise there’s a new way to share information"... "the big awakening is not what we can push into the field, but what we can get out of it."

While the overwhelming paradigm is still to get info into the field, the underlying emerging challenge is to also get information "out and around" - from the field.

It seems we can count on an exciting future when we combine mobile devices with content that is mobile.

By Peter Ballantyne

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home