This post was originally published on the Esoko blog, where we share the experiences and adventures of building, deploying and using a mobile Market Information System in Africa.
I joined Esoko 3 months ago. Before joining the organization, I always saw the building on my way home from school, orange and white, and tall. I thought it was a software development firm; which is not completely far from the truth. Anyways, an opening in the communications department, freshly out of a communications school, an interview and a test later I got the job as a communication officer. Now I read about Esoko before my interview (obviously), so I knew it was not just developing software and collecting data prices but was heavily invested in changing the lives of small holder farmers and helping the growth of the agricultural value chain. It was all so nice in abstract and theory. Working here, I read a lot of success stories, case studies and heard Mark Davies, the CEO and other members of the team talk about the impact we were making. I got it and yet I didn't get it. It was all like “ok so we are changing the lives of farmers, people can now make intelligent buying and selling decisions”… all nice, but it was on paper and it was people involved in the process who were telling me this. Like you know, blowing their own trumpet and stuff… ah well it sounded nice theoretically.
Three months after joining Esoko, our colleagues from our new office in Kenya came down for a visit to see how Esoko Ghana went about operations and to basically get acquainted with the platform. So as part of their visit, we arranged for Paolo, (MD of the Kenya office) and Clem (the Kenyan Sales Manager) to visit one of our beneficiary farms in Esueshia, in the Central region. When Vani, the head of Client Service told me about the trip and asked if the communications team (Garrett and I) would like to join, I was ecstatic. Like I slept dreaming of the trip. I was practically like a grade school kid going on his first field trip.
The day of the trip came, a Friday and the weather just decided to be moody, dark clouds, I mean it was drizzling as I set off to the office. I was really not amused. Like, it had not rained in months and it decides to pick that day to shower? Well fast forward, we got together, Clem, Paolo, Garrett, Isaac and Francis who were to be our tour guides, sort of. They are part of the Esoko Ghana deployment team and know all our farms and farmers like the back of their hands. Awesome guys really. We left Accra around 9am, with a scratch on our car which we had no idea of where it came from. Paolo was our designated driver and as the weather had cleared up a bit, with just a handful of clouds in the sky, it promised to be a good trip. It generally was up till the point the police stopped us somewhere after Kasoa for going beyond the speed limit, meanwhile, there was no sign telling motorists about the speed limit, it was all so sketchy but I guess it was because an “obroni’ (White man) was driving. They wasted about 15mins of our time but it all worked out eventually and we were on the road again.
Finally we got to Esueshia and two men joined us in the car. They were dressed in black Esoko polo shirts. They were about the same height, 5ft8 would be my guess, dark and slim. One was very excited. He immediately started talking to Francis and Isaac and told them to visit more often. The rest of the team were introduced to them. They were Ali and Isaac, the farmers who were beneficiaries of the GIZ MOAP/Esoko project. The project trained these farmers in new farming techniques and topped it up by giving them price information from Esoko on their mobile phones. We drove another 15 minutes from the Esueshia town into the forests where the farms were located. When we got down from the car, we were nicely welcomed by ant bites. Apparently one is not supposed to stand at the same spot for long cos then the ants will climb you and then have a feast on you. It took a lot of stomping to get them all off me *shudder*.
Then we entered the farm. Green with pineapples growing everywhere, planted orderly and precisely. Everything was so put together until I saw black plastic stuff covering the land, with the pineapples growing out of it. We were confused and upon asking Ali told us that was the plastic mulch method. He said with this new method taught by the project they didn’t have to deal with weeds as was the previous case. “In our former practices we spent almost 70% of our profit on clearing weeds from the farms after harvesting but now we don’t have to bother with them. Also the plastic mulching ensures that our fruits do not wither and die when the rains fail us”. Ali is a very excitable person. He is bubbly, laughs a lot and full of mirth. He had a lot to say about Esoko and didn’t miss a chance to passionately praise the changes Esoko has made in his life. It was like Esoko gave him life after he was declared dead by doctors. Now it was difficult at this point for me to decipher how Esoko impacted his life cos as far as I could see, the better farming techniques taught by the MOAP project must have attributed to better growth and harvest until he blew my mind with a simple statement. He said “I used to get GHC 800 after harvesting one acre, now however, with the price information I receive from Esoko, I make a whooping GHC10000 when I sell my produce”. I honestly thought he made a mistake so I asked him to say the amount again, and he repeated it. Now all his songs of praise for Esoko made sense.
I kept thinking about this statement the whole time. I mean having to hear the farmer himself talk about the impact of what our services are having on his life is a different experience altogether. It’s really inspiring. Now all the hard work, trying to get mundane help text together for users is totally worth it. I literally called my mum after I had settled down for the night to tell her about my Ali story. Seriously I spent an hour on the phone with her. It was like an epiphany, like the first time you come out, like making a successful debut! Ali is now a lead farmer in his community, teaching other farmers on new farming methods. He has even set up an office for his farming group. He said after harvesting his fruits this year, he will use the profit to get an excavator to clear his other land he had left fallow which is now full of weeds so that he expands the plastic mulch method to that land as well. He is confident and excited about his progress because he knows with better farming methods and prices information from Esoko he is bound to have a successful year and beyond!
This post was republished from the Esoko blog as part of NetHope's effort to facilitate collaborative learning and community knowledge-sharing. Please click here to read the article in its original form. We are always looking for relevant and thought-provoking ICT-related posts to republish. We value your suggestions; if you'd like to recommend a post, please email our Editor-in-Chief Paige Dearing at firstname.lastname@example.org.