Plugging the information gap: The Need for Mobile agri VAS
Usually, the brokers come to Shula’s field to look over her crops of rice, maize or tomatoes. Sometimes they offer her a price for them. Sometimes they don’t. Shula is now 35, moved to Mvomero district as a child, and has built a life here ever since. Her husband has a job elsewhere which means that she’s dealing with the decisions that come with running a farm largely alone. They try, where possible, to make joint ones about which crop to grow and how to counter the effects of pests, disease and Tanzania’s notoriously mercurial weather.
When a crop comes to fruition, Shula’s ability to find a competitive price for it is critical. At the moment she either takes or leaves the broker’s offer or goes to the local market in person to see what others are doing. She tells us that she really needs information on what’s happening at other nearby markets . At the moment, travelling to them to find out eats into her slim margins. Knowledge about local pricing would enable her to haggle much more effectively with the brokers.
When we ask her what else she needs she says “Agronomy advice – how to get the best products to the customer”. At the moment, if pests or disease attack, her only recourse for help is the agricultural extension worker, who is spread very thinly over his parish of farming groups. We ask her if she’d trust farming information sent to her via a mobile; after all, this would have direct impact on her livelihood. She says that she would be both thankful for and act upon any helpful information provided to her, adding “I know that there will be more information than I am able to get through the extension officer”.
She has had her mobile for seven years and it has quickly become a vital part of her small business. If a service is useful, Shula and her family are quick to take it. She uses voice calls and texts to let regular customers know when the harvest is ready and she also uses Tigo’s Pesa service for business. “Sometimes, when the traders come, they have no cash, and they pay me by Pesa”, she explains. Even the school fees for her three children, nowadays, are taken care of via her mobile phone.