The following are a few highlights from our panel of experts who shared their knowledge and experience researching and building mobile MIS.
- John Zoltner of FHI 360 gave a good explanation of the evolution of MIS from its origins as Famine Early Warning systems to customised information services and integration with exchanges (buyer/seller matchmaking).
- Andrew Kizoto, from the Department of Statistical Methods and Actuarial Sciences, shared highlights from his research on MIS activities in Mozambique. He found that those receiving market information were 34% more likely to participate (sell) in the market and experienced a benefit/cost ratio of 6.
- Sharing best practices was Shaun Ferris of Catholic Relief Services. Shaun highlighted the key differences between and approaches to Market Information, Market Intelligence and Market Linkages. He also gave a great explanation of the various delivery channels and their suitability for different actors.
- We wrapped up the webinar with a case study from Esoko Malawi. Robert Turner of ACDI/VOCA (Esoko Malawi Franchisee) highlighted the importance of commercial sustainability and the related implications (revenue share with key partners and the need to invest in training local resellers).
Finally, here are answers to a few key questions asked by the audience:
Q: Apart from market prices and weather, what other sorts of information were farmers most interested in learning about?
While the answer to this question will vary from market to market, we believe that farmers want and need information that supports them across the agricultural cycle. This means not only market prices and weather, but especially agronomical tips (planting, growing, harvesting, pest and disease management). Agri VAS offering more holistic support will tend to be more impactful and more successful.
Q: Are interactive voice response systems (IVR) a viable alternative when literacy is a problem?
IVR is a great way to work around the literacy challenge. However its key to understand the degree that literacy is THE obstacle. We’ve found many cases where farmers defined as illiterate were actually literate enough to understand the basic market pricing message. In many regions, we’ve seen little evidence that literacy has been an obstacle to mobile money usage (see next question for more on SMS and delivery channels).
Q: If smallholders are the main target client, I’m interested to hear the pros and cons of radio vs. SMS mobile technology. Old fashioned radio seems to be able to offer more.
The main advantage to the mobile channels is that its storable, retrievable and customisable. A farmer can get the price most relevant to his situation, store it and retrieve it when needed for negotiations. Alternatively, in many instances rural teledensity is lower than radio penetration, so radio might be the only option. The best case might be a complimentary model where a radio show could discuss market trends while a farmer can get specific prices via mobile.