Agriculture and Health Care: Mobile Changes

Another sector that is beginning to feel the innovation and change induced by the spread of mobiles and smart phones across the continent is agriculture, which is still the main pillar of many African economies. The sector accounts for around a third of Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) and almost 60 percent of its export revenues, according to the World Bank.


The spread of mobile phones across remote regions of Africa is enabling farmers to better market their products. One example is iCow, which started out as a mobile application with a breeding calendar for cows’ gestation periods. It has since evolved into a fully fledged SMS solution, guiding livestock farmers on best practice. It claims that over a third of the 25,000 farmers using the service have doubled their income.


Another application, M-Farm, weeds out middlemen by democratising market information required by small-scale farmers to better negotiate prices. The application helps farmers to anchor prices thanks to the recommended retail prices and matches crop suppliers and buyers. M-Farm also generates data that it sells to local media and analysts. Mobile phones and text message are connecting the 65 percent of Africa’s labour force that work in the continent’s agricultural sector.


The African health care sector has not been left out by the mobile revolution either. Counterfeit drugs are a serious problem in many African countries. An estimated 45 percent of drugs in Nigeria are counterfeit. The World Trade Organisation estimates that fake malaria drugs account for about 100,000 African deaths every year. The estimated annual global loss to the pharmaceutical industry exceed $75 billion and the fake drug industry is closely linked to organised crime. This is where the Ghana-based mobile application mPedigree comes in.


"Even Africa‘s political and ethnic violence has led to some mobile phone-based innovation."


When a patient buys drugs in a pharmacy, he just scratches off a panel to reveal a 10-digit code. He sends that number in a text message - which is free of charge - using a short dialling code. Seconds later he receives a message confirming, or other-wise, the authenticity of those drugs. MPedigree validates genuine medicines and brings clarity through one of the most basic of technologies. Launched in Ghana and piloted in both Ghana and Nigeria, the rapid success of mPedigree has seen it spread to Kenya and to the rest of East Africa. “African mobile phone users do not have contracts,” Mr. Bright Simons, Chief Strategist at mPedigree has told the tech blog of the Wall Street Journal. “They use top-up scratch cards. So people are very used to using scratch cards like this,” he said. In addition to the health benefits and financial rewards, there is also the benefit of real-time information on drug consumption. The mPedigree data, which is routed to data centres in Ireland and Germany, provides a continuous picture of the pharmaceutical needs of the country allowing distribution companies to prevent shortages, and giving health professionals early warning of epidemics or unusual drug consumption patterns.


In a similar example of how a services industry is emerging around smart phone users and network operators across the continent, the company Sproxil has teamed up with cable makers East African Cables and mobile network operator Safaricom to introduce the service “Zinduka”, an attempt to discourage potential dealers of counterfeit cables. The cable industry is facing losses from substandard cabling and a black market with counterfeits. Their solution seeks to bring to market a text message authentication system that checks a sticker before paying for the price of the cables, again scratching and authenticating a unique PIN number to confirm the legitimacy of the product.


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