Where the previous post concerned discussion of the impact on organizational culture resulting from a shift toward openness with data, the discussion here is about creating new tools for collecting data, with the purpose of aiding decision-making. 

The Black Star, shining down

Filtering through a great many articles on ICT and development, I came across the example of the mFarm initiative in an article on Ghanaweb. The project is part of a wider policy drive to increase agricultural output in Ghana.

The issues surrounding the lack of information in the agricultural food supply chain were on my mind when I had opportunity to catch up to my long-time friend, Corneliu Cotofana–entrepreneur/engineer. I described to him the difficulties growers, suppliers, and buyers contend with operating in an information vacuum and we discussed some of the policy initiatives in Ghana. Before long, we realized that there was enough of an engineering problem and policy challenge to merit a collaboration. 

reuniting to fight for food security, more dangerous than battling drug lords

So, Ladies and Gentleman, we would like to introduce our joint initiative:

Farm-e, a combination SMS and web-based market information exchange, decision-support tool, that will use technology to build the linkages to support planning, production and marketing. For the first time in Fiji, it will be possible to have a real-time birds-eye snapshot of agricultural food production at the macro level. Our mission is to have the information serve the purposes of growers, suppliers of seeds and fertilizers, buyers and exporters, and everyone involved in the policy discussion around food policy.

Across the developing world, agricultural output falls short of its potential because of a lack of linkages between the different players involved. Growers face uncertainty about whether they will find buyers for their crops. Suppliers of seeds and fertilizers are never certain how much stock to keep on hand. Buyers, made up of consumers, food processors, and exporters are at the mercy of irregular supply.

The mFarm initiative was so compelling to me because the wider policy initiatives achieved a 15-20% growth in income for farmers, while lowering transaction costs some 30%. For people with the lowest of incomes in Fiji, these possibilities represent a revolutionary, not evolutionary leap

Please remember that  the collaboration between Corneliu and I, would not be possible without the near ubiquity of mobile phones in the developing world. It’s only because this device is already in the hands of so many that we can think about how we can try to transform it from its intended purpose of social communication device to business tool.  

What’s next for us? We are attempting to secure a time slot to present at the South Pacific ICT Expo being held July 20 – 23 at USP’s Laucala campus. The Expo is being held to launch the Japan-Pacific ICT Centre. Our bid to present at the conference is an attempt to secure space in the technology venture incubator that will be housed at the research centre. 

Looking slightly further ahead, we have a rough outline of how we expect to proceed over the first year. Software development should take take 6-9 months. Toward the end of that time frame, we hope to bring in the first round of early-adopters and beta-users to help test the system and provide feedback. Once design and implementation with telecom partners is achieved, then we undertake the challenge of marketing on the national level.

We expect Farm-e to change and evolve as we work to ensure timely and relevant data is available to facilitate good decision-making by our users 

We’re also in search of a logo/mascot to make Farm-e a recognizable brand. Here are some possible contenders: