A guest post from Vani Holla, Director of Client Services at Esoko.
Esoko’s won a $1.1M grant from DFID to start operations in six countries across East Africa in what’s called the FoodTrade Project (you can read more about it here ). It’s a very exciting development that will help us with our goal of reaching 3 million farmers by 2020.
The first country for the rollout is Zambia and that’s how I ended up there with our CEO Mark Davies last month. Now are you wondering, how exactly do you go about marketing Esoko in a brand new country? I was personally hoping to arrange for a dozen elephants painted with the Esoko logo on their big bellies roam around the streets of Lusaka. But it wasn’t to be – we decided to take the boring (read as disruptive) method of using our networks to find some individuals/organisations who could potentially join our network of resellers and run Esoko in Zambia. Since most of them who we reached weren’t up to speed about Esoko and the mAgric market in general, seemed the best thing to do was have a showcase of mAgric innovations in Zambia where various mobile solutions would be presented, including Esoko’s.
We found a local partner called Musika Development Initiative who very graciously agreed to help us in Zambia. Musika is a non-profit organization that works to stimulate private sector investment in the smallholder market. Rob Munro from Musika was our local go-to man! To start with, he made us list of all the important players in the agric sector and invited them for the workshop. He also helped us with the venue and getting the best deals possible. (Lesson for me – never underestimate the power of local partnership). And for the Nth time – thank you Rob Munro! Since this was a showcase of mobile solutions, the chosen presenters were MTN (mobile money could be a rage in Zambia), Vodafone (new entrants to the market), Zoona (they have many mobile products, their flagship being eVouchers), and of course Esoko.
Fast forward, we arrive at the day of the mAgric workshop. Side note: we get to the venue and the place has a big beautiful garden with these beautiful impalas. For those who, like me, didn’t know about impalas, here’s some information on why they’re known as “McDonalds” of the African bush. So I was already in a good mood because of the impalas (I’m from India and have lived mostly in impala-less West Africa, so it was a new discovery…) We walk into the conference room set for approximately 100 people, we all make introductions and there was a buzz in the air. As the presentations go on, I start to understand the competition Esoko has in the Zambian market. Obviously, this market is quite mature with farmers already using the solutions available.
Vodafone spoke about how they are building their own mAgric solutions with their partners USAID & TechnoServe for the Connected Farmer Alliance (CFA). CFA seeks to promote commercially sustainable mobile agriculture solutions and increase productivity and revenues for 500,000 smallholder farmers across Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. The program also aims to increase revenues for agribusinesses and agricultural value chain service providers.
Zoona presented their eVoucher solution and how they had processed billions of vouchers already. They also provide a mobile money platform to young entrepreneurs in Africa and give support to help businesses grow.
We presented Esoko, and I was impressed with the smart questions around sustainability, business model, if we are adding vouchers & payments to services, so on & so forth.
Sadly MTN missed the workshop due to a miscommunication and instead Eric, an independent contractor from Zambia National Farmers Union, stepped in for a quick talk. He spoke about how they have deployed mobile solutions in Zambia and some of the challenges associated with it.
All in all it was a great showcase. Soon after Esoko’s presentation, I sent out a poll question to all the attendees asking them if they think Esoko should enter the Zambian market. 92% of them said yes and the rest said maybe. I knew that the result would be positive but not to the extent that nobody even said no. It was just amazing to see that in spite of all the solutions present in the market, the crowd would like for Esoko to launch in Zambia.
Our next step is to identify 3 resellers from 37 applicants who’ve applied in Zambia. The selection process has begun with us starting to interview them. I’ll keep you posted on the outcome of the selection process in my next post. See you then!