Vodacom Tanzania says it is experiencing success with its initiatives aimed at boosting business for small farmers in the East African nation. The operator’s Connected Farming Alliance (CFA) has already made it possible for some 600 farmers to receive payment for their crops and livestock via their mobile phones. Now a partnership, signed last May, with Finnish mobile technology developer Sibesonke Ltd. has yielded a new addition to Vodacom’s agricultural program—a USSD-based service called mFarming that provides subscribers with real-time access to weather forecasts and expert advice on topics such as disease control and crop management. It allows farmers to connect with parties who wish to buy and sell crops and livestock, and helps them arrange for transportation to bring these products to market. Farmers who are Vodacom subscribers can connect to mFarming simply by dialing a number on their phones.
We think Vodacom’s initiative is an excellent example of how a mobile operator can strengthen its position and eventually drive revenue by getting deeply involved in the small-business community of a rural economy. In Tanzania, as in many developing countries, geographic remoteness and lack of banking infrastructure have created a situation in which m-commerce can flourish and operators essentially function as banks. Under Vodacom’s CFA program, farmers already pay each other directly from their phones. Now, mFarming can energize this marketplace by making it quicker and easier for farmers and their customers and vendors to find each other, to communicate and to make transactions happen. In addition, it helps solve the problem of geographic isolation by connecting farmers with experts who can advise them on technical points, experts to whom they would ordinarily have little or no access.
The USSD mobile community platform is appropriate in this case, due to the prevalence of low-end feature phones in Tanzania. Here, non-cutting-edge technology, deployed in a way that is sensitive to local needs, has the potential to place an MNO at the cutting edge of business development. If Vodacom’s initiative continues to strengthen and build the farming economy, subscriptions will increase, as will the number of m-payments in the farming sector, both of which will create revenue for the operator.