|Photo from the EcoNet Farmer website.|
In Zimbabwe, the market-leading telecommunications provider EcoNet Wireless, is packaging and distributing valuable information such as farming tips, health advice, weather information and mobile banking options to engage with rural customers, build brand loyalty, and support the overall image of the company. The company has launched a wealth of feature-phone enabled subset brands, such as EcoCash, EcoHealth, EcoSchool and EcoFarmer.
“EcoFarmer is a revolutionary way of farming using mobile technology. It is Zimbabwe’s first micro-insurance product designed to insure inputs and crops against drought or excessive rainfall. In addition the insured farmer will also receive daily weather information, farming tips and information on when and where to sell, and the best price for their produce,” according the platform’s website.
The EcoFarmer platform includes the following pieces of information:
· Daily weather data from a weather station linked to your field.
· Farming and market tips
· Free daily rainfall advice
· Free weekly best farming prices
· Free weekly crop data
· Free monthly market pricing requests
· Crop information
· Credit rating
· Free adverts and marketing links
· Financial linkages
There are three basic levels of subscription. General Farmers get very basic information for free, Registered Farmers provide some information (a monetizable asset for telecommunications firms) and receive expanded information, while Insured Farmers receive all the information, plus a supporting insurance policy. By subscribing to the services for 8 cents per day for 125 days, Insured Farmers are said to be guaranteed a harvest or at least $100 for every 10kg of seeds planted. In an obvious partnership with a sponsor, the seeds have to be SeedCo brand. They provide this micro-insurance “regardless of the weather conditions,” meaning this is not true index-based insurance, rather a smart marketing scheme designed to engage customers, but it’s working and the modality is an interesting one for other African nations. There are currently an estimated 300,000 subscribers. They spun-off the EcoFarmer service in 2015, to launch a separate new service called “Dial-A-Mudhumeni,” a partnership with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Agriculture that connects smallholder farmers with agricultural extension workers.
Where does the weather information come from? Econet has developed a network of cell-tower-based stations to monitor weather patterns including rainfall, temperature and humidity. According to TelecomPaper, “Zimbabwe operator EcoNet has inked a partnership agreement with the Metrological Services Department to provide weather information to smallholder farmers. The MSD issues weather forecasts to the public, and EcoNet provides the data platform for distribution. The MSD's new weather station automatically records the parameters and transmits the data to MSD remote stations and its offices in Harare via SMS. The data received at the MSD in Harare will be relayed to the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development for policymaking. The new system for weather measurement and monitoring will be installed throughout the country to assist smallholder farmers in accessing information.” They locate the farmers using a smart application connected with the seeds. The seed packs hold a small, plastic container with a specific number that the farmer must send to the network via SMS. As soon as the number is received, the farmer’s location will be noted, and rainfall in the area will be monitored.
· Developing approaches to support smallholder decision making and planning through the use of: historical climate information; forecasts; and participatory planning methods