Africa is commonly perceived as a backwater full of misery, poverty, corruption and of course, safaris. The story that has been told from time immemorial is that we are a backward people with backward ways in need of colonial supervision and kind-hearted missionaries to show us the way to enlightenment.
Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, this is the story that continues to be told to this day. This is not to say that there aren’t parts of Africa that are backwaters, rife with misery, poverty and corruption. But that’s just part of the story.
The other part of the story – the real one – is that Africa is and always has been a place of richness. The ground beneath our feet is rich in natural resources which are abundant enough to power multiple industries in Africa. It goes without saying that we are rich in intellect and keen on breeding innovation.
So today I want to talk about how mobile innovation, in particular, can change the face and future of Africa. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have positively impacted several countries in the areas of health, finance and agriculture.
One problem that plagues Africa is dependable health care. Locating nearby doctors or hospitals, diagnosing diseases and assessing the authenticity of medication is a real issue in Africa that isn’t really faced in other parts of the world. In Africa, proper diagnosis and timely access to reliable health care and medicine are literally life or death matters.
Too often, patients with medical issues go untreated or misdiagnosed. Other persons suffering maladies must travel great distances to the nearest doctors or hospitals while many frequently receive counterfeit medication with no way of assessing its authenticity.
However, today’s mobile technology is being leveraged to provide adequate health care to individuals in Africa. Several mobile applications have been developed to help address these issues. We’re going to talk about two in particular: Find-A-Med from Nigeria and MedFast from Kenya.
Find-A-Med is a location-based mobile application that allows users to find the closest health center. The app aims to make all health care facilities across Nigeria accessible and searchable from a mobile device. Users can store the basic health information in the app and dial it up in case of an emergency.
MedAfrica was launched by Kenyan developers, Shimba Technologies. According to the developers, MedAfrica essentially acts as a clinic in your pocket. The app can be used to diagnose and monitor symptoms caused by diseases. Additionally, the app provides the user with a directory of nearby doctors and hospitals as well as information on potential treatment for diseases. To add on to the features, the app can also be used to identify counterfeit medication and direct users to the nearest doctor or hospital.
Africa is constantly evolving and so is the health care and technology sector. Apps like these will provide increased visibility to local hospitals and health care facilities and ensure that patients receive proper viable medication. This will play a major role in reducing incidences of death, infant mortality and complications from prolonged unidentified diseases.
An app in Nigeria is addressing the problem of how to transfer money safely and securely to people when banks are notoriously corrupt and frequently entangled in ethnic disputes. The Nigerian payment service provider Pagatech, developed by Tayo Oviosu, launched an app called Paga for Android to bolster its growing payment service in Nigeria.
Paga, which launched in 2009, has well over 2 million customers and more than 7,400 agents across Nigeria. Paga’s online presence was initially through www.mypaga.com but their mobile app now offers customers an enhanced mobile experience. As an innovative, open, secure, and interoperable mobile payments platform, Paga allows any person who has a mobile phone to transact electronically, thus turning the mobile phone into an electronic wallet.
Customers can use Paga to send cash, purchase airtime, pay bills and pay retailers. Paga supports all phones, even the most basic SMS-enabled phone, and works on all mobile networks. Customers can also transact on Paga over the internet, via the Paga mobile application which will be made available for Java-enabled devices and via USSD.
Agriculture is one of Ghana’s key sectors, contributing 22% to the country’s gross domestic product and employing 42% of its workers. With an average farm size of about 1.2 hectares, most farmers in Ghana are small-scale. Many of these small-scale farmers struggle with low yield and high post-harvest losses partly due to their lack of access to agriculture information. Ghana only has one extension agent for every 2,000 farmers and poor transport and communication infrastructure, making access to the market particularly difficult for farmers.
Farmerline bridges this information gap through the use of mobile technology. The Ghana-based company provides three service lines: outbound messaging provides personalized voice alerts that communicate critical information related to price, weather and farming techniques; mobile surveys allow farmer-based organizations to conduct surveys to capture the impact of their interventions; the company’s support line gives farmers direct access to expert advice. All of the company’s services are offered via SMS and Android as well as voice-based messaging services to help reach farmers with low literacy levels. Furthermore, all content is provided in local languages.
Farmerline provides critical market information to Ghana’s small-scale farmers, which helps them increase their yields by adopting improved farming practices. The company’s customers, many of whom are women, ultimately benefit from increased income. Through its commitment to BCtA, Farmerline envisions a reach of 500,000 farmers in West Africa by 2019.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, small-scale farmers were often faced with difficulties in respect to planting, harvesting and selling their crops. They faced challenging dilemmas of not knowing the crops to plant, when to plant, the suitable location(s), projected yields, climate issues as well as who the best buyers and sellers were in the market. Inadequate access to data and information made it difficult for farmers to harvest greater yields and manage to be competitive with each other in the market.
Mobile Agribiz is a two-year old startup of Narcisse Mbunzama, who developed a web and SMS mobile application that helps DRC farmers decide when and how to plant crops, select the best crops for a given location using climate and weather data and connect to the available. Farmers can easily connect with customers by sending an SMS with their phone number and information on goods, prices and quantities for sale.
As a result of using Mobile Agribiz, Congolese farmers have improved their productivity, empowered themselves with new skills, increased their incomes by 40% and attained enhanced food security and nutrition for their families and communities.