Souktel’s Mobile Irrigation & Market Price Services: Built on Strong Partnerships between Mobile Networks, Ministries, and Local Farmers
April 3, 2013
This is a guest blog from Leila Dal Santo and Jacob Korenblum, Souktel
In water-scarce Morocco, daily messages like this one ensure that farmers get all the information they need in order to conserve this precious resource. Drawing on the nearly 100% mobile penetration rate in the country, Souktel, in partnership with USAID’s Morocco Economic Competitiveness Program (MEC), mobile network Meditel, and the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), launched a Market Price Information and Irrigation Advisory Service in October 2012—helping farmers get better access to irrigation and market price data, and leveraging the potential of basic mobile phones to transform agricultural practices across the country. In line with GSMA’s belief that mobiles provide a meaningful platform to connect smallholder farmers with timely, vital information, the MEC initiative helps farmers make more informed decisions that ultimately boost their productivity.
The Irrigation Advisory Service, which aims to improve water efficiency on local farms, offers basic irrigation advice based on current weather conditions—all through SMS messaging. “The process is a lot more efficient now [than before the mobile service was in place],” noted Andrew Watson, Chief of Party for the MEC project, in a recent interview. “The farmers just…send an SMS saying what their pumping capacity is–and based on the weather data for their location, they’ll get an automated message back with specific instructions saying, for example, ‘For tomatoes, you need to turn the pump on for two hours’.” Watson says that despite it being early in the game, both of these mobile services have been a huge success: “There’s been great uptake so far–and preliminary surveys show people are really using the information, saving water, saving money, becoming more competitive.”
The project has also developed a Market Price Information service which lets farmers and vendors post & search for real-time market prices for crops, via SMS. A Souktel-designed mobile platform is integrated directly with the Ministry’s price database: As MoA market reporters capture prices across 11 major cities and 25 rural marketplaces, farmers get real-time access to this key information. Leveraging Souktel’s “mobile matching” software, farmers create a profile listing the crops they farm, along with their location–and then query the system to get real-time market price information based on this profile. The cost to each user is less than a dollar per search–a huge savings when compared to the cost of making phone calls to track down buyers, or traveling long distances to the market just to research price data. With this service, Souktel and partners reduce the information disadvantage which many local farmers face when going to market with their goods–and thus increase the farmers’ ability to get the right price for their produce, at the right time.
What were the key factors which made these services successful? Looking back, here’s what we at Souktel have learned:
First, meet your stakeholders in person—all of them—during the service design phase. Our trips to meet with MoA officials, USAID project staff, and farmer/trader cooperatives in the Doukkala-Abda and Oriental regions were crucial to ensuring that our software development team created a system that actually met the needs of end users. Only by meeting in person, on a regular basis, were we able to work through the exact ‘use cases’ of each stakeholder group.
A second key lesson is that partnerships matter: Securing the support of the (Orange-owned) Meditel mobile network ensured that the service was priced affordably, was scalable across the country, and backed up by robust network infrastructure. In addition, when mobile network partners understand a campaign’s goals, and are invested in its success, the testing and launch process is typically much smoother. Instead of a months-long coordination process between Meditel and Souktel tech staff, the service was ready to launch in a matter of weeks.
Finally, pilot trials–which emulate actual use cases (e.g. a farmer’s creation of a user profile to register for irrigation info)–are crucial. Pre-launch testing of applications by users in the field guarantees that developers and partner stakeholders can collect relevant feedback, and make useful modifications before an official launch.
To sum up: Meet your users, build solid partnerships, and pilot before launching. The end result will likely be healthier artichokes—and better livelihoods for the hard-working farmers who grow them.