Kenya’s Produce Purchasing Agents Ride Innovation Wave

Award-winning AgriManagr app assists more than 300,000 farmers

WRITTEN BY RICHARD CHOWNING

In 2010 John Waibochi, the founder, CEO, and chief innovator at of Kenya’s Virtual City Group, won the Nokia Growth Economy Venture Challenge. The award brought his company a US$1 million cash prize. Yet the recognition is not a laurel on which he wants his company to rest.

Waibochi says that Virtual City Group has been on the forefront of helping Africans, particularly Kenyans, understand that mobile phones are not just for communication and entertainment, but they are business tools that can help people make and save money. He has not only helped Kenyans understand that, but Virtual City Group has presented the population with many useful applications.

One successful app put out by Virtual City Group is AgriManagr, an application that assists more that 300,000 farmers. The app has been recognised internationally with The World Summit Award (WSA) on Mobile Content in 2010.

The AgriManagr system assists farmers and produce middlemen in automating produce purchasing transactions. It facilitates the management of weighing, grading and receipting of produce gathered from farmers at a rural or urban collection centres throughout the country. The app goes beyond mere record keeping by allowing purchasing agents to pay the farmers using cashless transactions on their phones. It also comes with the ability to automatically reward frequent and favoured suppliers.

Produce purchasing agents who combine AgriManagr with an electronic weighing scale can send the weight information directly to the AgriManagr app through Bluetooth technology. A complete report of the transaction including quality of the produce, quantity, farmer’s details, collection point, and the payment due are sent to the purchasing agent’s headquarters which can then make payment.

Having real-time information about purchases in the field gives the headquarters an accurate understanding of how much total produce, by type, they will have available to supply to their retailers in the next day or two.

The farmer can be given a receipt at the collection centre detailing the transaction including his dealings with the purchaser over the past several deliveries. This quick, real-time delivery of information creates trust and builds loyal relationships between the farmers, purchasing agents and the produce distributing corporations they represent.

Waibochi is striving to keep Virtual City Group of the crest of the innovation wave by planning to introduce between 30 and 50 new, prototype apps each month. It used to be said that Africa needs a lot from the developed world – but Waibochi and Virtual City Group are setting standards that the rest of the world will do well to emulate.

Richard Chowning is director of Africa Mentor which provides coaching and resources for entrepreneurs and non-profits working in Africa.

ForgetMeNot Africa launches Zimbabwean app competition

Developers encouraged to create new apps for Zimbabwean market

Budding Zimbabwean app developers will see their unique ideas for SMS-based mobile applications launched to more than three quarters of the country’s 7.7 million mobile subscribers.

A new app competition launching next week at a JumpStart Community meeting at the Harare Club will enable winning developers to earn revenue from their apps, which will be launched across Econet Wireless Zimbabwe’s network of 6 million subscribers.

The ForgetMeNot Africa eTXT Apps Challenge – in partnership with developer community Jumpstart, leading Zimbabwean weblog TechZim and mobile operator Econet – encourages developers to create new apps and games that are particularly attractive to Zimbabwean mobile users.

Using ForgetMeNot Africa’s unique Optimiser Platform – which currently supports internet-free Facebook, email and online chat via Econet’s eTXT service – entrants can develop apps that reach user1s of all handsets via two-way SMS, from first generation mobile phones to the latest smartphone. Developers can use any programming language for their entry.

Winning entrants will win up to three iPads along with $2,000 seed capital to develop their ideas and, if successful, their apps will be launched to Econet’s 6 million mobile subscribers, from which they will receive an ongoing revenue share.

To submit their ideas developers must first become members of the Jumpstart community, then register on the ForgetMeNot Africa Developers’ Platform. Once developers have created their app they can submit it onto the Econet eTXT Platform.

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After an initial development period, the best app ideas will be shortlisted and developers will attend a Test Drive Final in May, where they will receive mentoring from ForgetMeNot Africa experts to fine tune their ideas. They will then present a business plan and code for their app to a panel of judges, who will choose the winners.

The launch of the competition follows the success of ForgetMeNot Africa’s Kipokezi Apps Challenge in Kenya. This inspired developers to submit unique app ideas for Kenyan mobile users, including a traffic information app, a treasure hunt game and an app that provided football fans the latest information on the Kenyan Premier League.

Jeremy George, Chief Operating Officer at ForgetMeNot Africa, said: “Our recent Apps Challenge in Kenya was a huge success with some truly unique and innovative ideas submitted. Zimbabwe also has a wealth of developer talent and we want to give them the same opportunity to earn revenue from their ideas. We are giving developers the chance to bring their ideas for unique apps or games that are useful, fun and highly relevant to Zimbabwean mobile users.”

ForgetMeNot Africa’s technology is already available to Econet’s entire subscriber base through its eTXT service, which launched in April 2011. This launch more than doubled access to internet messaging in Zimbabwe. Previously only one in eight

Zimbabweans (1.4 million people) had access to the internet, but the launch of eTXT provided all Econet subscribers with access to Facebook, email and online chat on even the most basic mobile handsets.

The competition will be launched at the JumpStart Community event at the Harare Club on Tuesday, March 27. ForgetMeNot Africa founder John Carroll will speak at the event, and will be running workshops to assist developers the next day.

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