Hudson Shiraku works for Biovision’s Farmer Communication Programme (FCP) in Nairobi. As part of his job he keeps an eye on technological aspects of the programme activities. In our interview he explains the importance of the mobile phone in general and particularily M-Pesa, an SMS-based payment system with more than 17 million users in Kenya.
Why is M-Pesa so popular in Kenya?
Banks are seen by many as expensive to operate in terms of fees: They charge their customers for the storage and withdrawal services. Their services can only be accessed in major towns or even only in Nairobi. M-Pesa is cheap, convenient and you only need to go to one of these M-Pesa kiosks and agents.
(Photo: Simon Kihiko Kimani)
For many Kenyans it is uneconomical to save 500 shillings in a bank when the bank’s minimum balance is 200 shillings and it costs 50 shillings to withdraw it. A phone can cost from as little as 999 to over 50,000 shillings depending on the type of phone and the person who is buying it. So the affordability of phones and the fact that they all have the same M-Pesa features have contributed to the popularity of M-Pesa.
Do Kenyans think that it’s expensive or complicated to use a mobile phone?
It is a yes and a no depending on the type of phone and the person who is using it. Some illiterate and old people who are not technologically savvy have just mustered the art of calling and receiving calls – the green and red buttons and they don’t bother about other applications. In this context, it’s not complicated but when they think of other applications it is. Expensive or not? It depends on the person who is buying it and the type of phone also.
What might happen if more and more people have mobile phones with internet connection?
I can do emailing and even search for information from the internet anytime and from anywhere. This is the kind of empowerment that people will get by this and I’m sure that they will accrue all benefits that come with it. It is usually said here that information is power.
Kenya is an interesting place for people with ideas for mobile phone applications. TED Global Fellow Su Kahumbu is one of them. With her company, Green Dreams Ltd., she is in touch wit Biovision for several years already. We met her for this interview because she just launched iCow: A simple voice based mobile application that will help farmers track the estrus stages of their cows helping them to manage their breeding as well as cow nutrition leading up to the calving day.
Why did you see a need for iCow?
I stumbled upon developing iCow whilst developing my bigger mobile platform: mKulima Farmer Information Service and Helpline. I was asked to enter mKulima into the Apps4Africa competition which I decided against as I felt it was still far from completion. I thus decided to enter a smaller module from the platform, the cow gestation calendar which I named iCow. iCow went on to win first place in the event.
What did it take in order to execute your idea?
It took a lot of patience, money, creativity, time, perseverance and like minded competent partners.
Did you already get feedback from the field?
Yes. Because of the nature of iCow, our customer care center interacts real time with farmers and others using the platform. Within only 6 weeks from launch the iCow platform was being used in 27 counties across Kenya.
Do you have ideas for further development?
Yes. Since launch we have already added a series of new features to the platform based on farmer demand. One of these is iCow Soko, a virtual mobile livestock market place which is very popular. We shall continue to innovate in this area for as long as we feel able to provide solutions to the farmers’ queries. And we are now developing mKulima.
The mobile phone is an important tool for Biovision”s Farmer Communication Programme (FCP) in Africa. In June we finished the beta version of an Android application for Infonet-Biovision. Andrew Kamau, who tweets as @aandruk, was involved in this project as a developer. Tweeting from @FutureForAll we asked him a couple of questions.
@aandruk When did you start developing on Android? #twinterview
@FutureForAll Around mid-2010. Mobile usage is huge in Africa and I saw Android as the upcoming platform, so jumped onto it… #twinterview
@aandruk What inspires you and where do you get your knowledge from? #twinterview
@FutureForAll I”m driven by the desire to solve online casino real life problems/challenges using technology that”s simple, and available… #twinterview
@FutureForAll I studied programming in university; and supplemented it with my personal reading. #twinterview
@aandruk What do you expect for the future of Android in Africa? #twinterview
@FutureForAll I expect we”ll see more people with more functional devices in the near future; and more affordable ones as well. #twinterview
@FutureForAll What this means for African developers is simply more opportunities such as the recent ADC: http://t.co/gwx7xJu #twinterview
@aandruk What should Biovision keep in mind for its Android application? #twinterview
@FutureForAll I think the most important thing is to ensure that the application remains relevant and meets the users” needs. #twinterview