Africa's poverty reduction has been driven by growth and not by improvement in equity. A recent World Bank Ghana poverty report highlighted geographical diversity in poverty. For example in Ghana, the national drop in numbers of people living in poverty masks significant regional disparities between the northern Savanna regions (58%) and the rest of the country (23%). The highest poverty headcount in 2016/17 is found in the rural savannah zone at 67.7%.
Access to and proper use of inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides are key to increasing productivity. However, input usage among smallholders remain stubbornly low. In fact, at an average of 17.5 kg/ha, fertilizer usage in Ghana is among the lowest in the world. Among the reasons for low input usage are the high costs of inputs and lack of access to capital to procure inputs. Only 40% of Ghanaian adults over 15 years old have bank accounts and those with formal savings schemes are estimated to be only 19%. This phenomenon is common in many African countries. A mere 8% of rural households had access to credit for financing agriculture and crop and life insurance programs that could make these poor farmers more resilience in the face of these climate, economic and social stressors and threats are virtually non-existent. Moreover, with farmer to extension officer ratio at more than 3000:1 in many countries, many farmers don’t have access to traditional extension, further deepening lack of information and widening the information asymmetry that exists within agricultural value chains.
Esoko realized that in the midst of these challenges, many African countries have one of the highest rates of mobile phone penetration in the world. In Ghana for instance, there are more mobile phones than there are people. This presents a great opportunity for the unbanked & underserved population to access information and other tangible digital products
Esoko started in 2008 as a social impact business to see how the emergence of mobile technology in Africa, could improve the lives of rural communities across the continent. The company leverages its technical platform and field force for the collection & dissemination of information, mostly using tablet devices and feature phones. Esoko provides smallholders with access to inputs and finance through our virtual marketplace, while driving business for input dealers and financial service providers. We offer a range of applications – whether that’s delivering critical market information, crop advisories and weather forecasts, or monitoring field activities. Esoko has evolved over the years but remains committed to improving income for rural communities by empowering them – and the businesses that serve them – through mobile technology
Esoko's Digital Farmer Services target small holder farmers s growing mainly cereals (maize, sorghum, rice etc), leguminous crops (soybean groundnuts, cowpea). tree crops and vegetables. These farmers have farm holdings of less than 2 hectares in size. A recent study conducted by USAID ADVANCE program found that only 7% of these farmers use certified seeds, 38% use improved but not certified seeds and more than half (56%) continue to use low yielding, drought intolerant local varieties. This situation has resulted in low productivity for both the cereals and legumes with farmers achieving only 31% of potential yield for maize and 65% for soya. This is largely driven by low or no access to inputs with fertilizers consumption at a mere 17Kg/ha. There's no other economic activity, there is widespread poverty as most of them live below the national poverty line. They remain unreached by businesses and have no access to finance, insurance or to mechanization services. These farmers have only one agricultural season and are exposed to extreme weather, increasing climate variability and poor soils.
Esoko’s core mission has been to improve the incomes of these smallholders whilst running sustainable and profitable business. It’s for these reasons why an entire product of Esoko has been designed exclusively for these customer segment. They are the pivot of this product and without them there is no Digital Farmer product of Esoko.
Current market potential for the Digital Farmer Service.
Of the estimated 8 million SHFs in Ghana with land size averaging 2.5 acres, only 8% of them have access to credit
Esoko DFS starts with basic information services which delivers rich localized agricultural content and market information to farmer’s via simple mobile phones. These contents include market prices on various agricultural commodities, agronomic advisories, weather forecasts and Climate Smart Agricultural Tips which are delivered to farmer’s mobile phones via SMS, Voice SMS, IVR and call centre in local languages. The farmer only needs a simple feature phone to access these information in her/her own language, thus bypassing the issue of illiteracy and high cost of smartphones.
To help make the farmers more visible, digitally integrated and business compliant, Esoko also provides a simple but powerful communication tool for businesses, projects, NGOs and governments to connect with farmers. The company offers a cloud hosted web platform that allows any project or organization to customize their networks and areas of interest, profile recipients, then send information to them at a low cost via SMS, voice SMS and a call centre. Esoko’s original content and e-extension offering includes:
• Market prices covering over 52 agricultural commodities
• Climate smart agricultural technologies and seasonal forecast delivered over SMS, Voice SMS, IVR and call centre.
• Bids & Offers, linking buyers to sellers in an innovative virtual marketplace
• Good Agronomic Practices
• Call Centre staffed with agric experts speaking local languages
• Organizations may also send their own content - promotions,
• reminders, announcements etc. via the platform
Over 1 million farmers have received more than 30 million messages over the Esoko platform via SMS, IVR, Voice SMS and over 420,000 calls coming in through the call centre and the social and economic impacts of these services have been phenomenal.
Riding on these services, we expanded the information services to include a much broader range of services in 2017. Esoko Digital Farmer Service is now an innovative agricultural value chain digitization service that leverages mobile and web technologies to connect critical and tangible services to Small Holder Farmers (SHFs). This is done through a network of field agents across farming communities. The agents equipped with tablets running Esoko technologies are the conduits for providing critical services to thousands of smallholders. These critical services include credit to finance agricultural operations, insurance to increase farmer resilience to emerging threats and economic stressors, input subsidy programs and access to input and output markets as well as innovative micro pension schemes. The service creates an ecosystem and an economy around the agents comprising of key value chain actors such as input providers, mechanization service providers, financial institutions and grain off-takers. All transactions within the agricultural value chain are recorded and digitized using smart cards enabled by Esoko mobile money wallet and Visa, the global payment provider, helping the farmer build a history of transactions which could be used by third parties such as financial institutions to assess and provide loans to these farmers.