I was very interested to read the new report from Vodafone – ‘Connected Agriculture: The role of mobile in driving efficiency and…, having been a participant in one of the external workshops that helped to shape it. I wasn’t disappointed. The report is well structured and evidenced, and suggests some extremely significant opportunities to use mobile phone technology to ‘improve the efficiency of the agriculture and food sectors as well as helping to raise the incomes of millions of poor farmers in developing countries’ (executive summary).
I have three specific reflections on the report:
(1) There is huge potential in using mobiles to help with the basic coordination of smallholder agriculture value chains – but this is also the area where there are the least existing pilots. As we are seeing in a number of BIF projects (for example AACE Foods Nigeria, Agora, Bangladesh and MicroVentures Malawi among others) it is very challenging for business in developing countries to identify smallholder suppliers and build a reliable supply chain. This challenge also exists in large and economically important supply chains such as cocoa in West Africa. If these supply chains can be made more efficient there are huge commercial, economic and development gains available, because they make it possible for people to have a sustainable and rewarding livelihood at their current rural home, rather than be forced to move to the cities. Similar opportunities also exist in other value chains that have similar features, such as home-based handicrafts.
(2) I hope that the approach that Vodafone have taken can be a model for how a wider variety of innovative business models can be identified. By starting with an issues – the constraints holding back smallholder farmers – and brainstorming possible solutions with a wide variety of interest groups (ably facilitated by Accenture and Oxfam), Vodafone now have a much broader set of commercial opportunities to explore than if they had only built ‘out’ from their existing businesses and knowledge base
(3) The report is also a call for a partnership approach. The recommendations section begins: ‘Mobile network operators have a leading role to play in the successful realisation of the benefits outlined in this study, but they will need the collective support of key stakeholders across the agricultural supply chain. NGOs, private enterprises and governments must also contribute their knowledge and expertise to bring critical elements together.’
My take home messages for those working in inclusive business are therefore that we must help Vodafone and other mobile operators to pilot and scale these ideas, as they count for nothing unless they are implemented. There are opportunities in all the areas that are suggested in the report, but my own priority would be supply chain efficiency because of the low current base and the huge gains available. We should also learn from the way Vodafone are approaching this to help us to innovate in other business sectors. Finally, we need to continue to work together across the sectors, as cross-sector partnerships are critical to realising these opportunities.
Originally posted on the Business Innovation Facility Practitioner Hub www.businessinnovationfacility.org. BIF helps the development and uptake of inclusive business models by companies in developing countries. IBLF is a founding member and implementer of BIF, and TPI provides partnering support for organisations engaged in or pursuing inclusive business models.
By Tom Harrison, TPI Associate.