Airtel Uganda has started the Airtel Cares scheme by digitizing agriculture, health and education. The first part of Airtel Cares was made public at the unveiling of a partnership between Airtel and agricultural-technology app developer EzyAgric, which aims to boost agri-business in Uganda. Airtel Uganda managing director Henry Njoroge said the partnership will encourage farmers to adopt mobile phone use to obtain useful information on agricultural inputs, market access, insurance options, marketing and weather, among other matters.
Airtel Cares has designed customized agronomy messages for farmers via the EzyAgric App. Feature-phone users can obtain the information via USSD/IVR and SMS notifications. In 2018, farming employed over 80 percent of the rural population of Uganda and about 64.3 percent of the working population.
Information viewed on the app will be zero-rated up to 500 MB per user per month, after which a farmer must pay for extra data to use the information on the app. All subscriptions will be handled via USSD opt-in.
Many so-called “mobile-first” societies have accelerated development by getting mobile devices into the hands of users who have had little or no previous access to telecommunications or financial services. These are generally strongly agricultural societies. In order for mobile operators in such markets to prosper, it is imperative for them to increase the number of users, to develop a customer base. Offering key assistance to farmers is one of the most effective ways of doing this.
Farmers in rural, remote areas may have no other way of getting vital information updates about weather conditions, markets, and other agricultural data, so making these available via an easy-to-use app could be a game-changer. Making the information available even on feature phones, for those who either cannot afford a data plan or a smartphone, or for those who do not feel comfortable yet with such things, makes Airtel Cares even more widely accessible.
Eventually, the feature-phone users may be upgraded to smartphone plans. And when farmers use their devices for agricultural purposes, inevitably they will also use them for other things and may eventually require more data. In this way, Airtel can increase its customer base and grow it into a more profitable one over time.