How Mobile Phones Could Help African Farmers Sell More Products

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A U.S. market research company has partnered with a Netherlands-based company that does independent agricultural certifications to engage and educate farmers via mobile phones.
The result could mean smallholder farmers in Africa who are better certified to compete in a global marketplace, who are in compliance to compete, and who have the chance to expand their businesses, the companies said.

Together, GeoPoll and Control Union will use mobile surveys to reach smallholder farmers in emerging economies — first in Africa and later in Asia — with the goal of reaching 1 million farmers by 2020 via SMS and voice messaging.
Denver, Colorado-based GeoPoll describes itself the world’s largest mobile survey platform. It claims to have the phone numbers of more than 200 million users in emerging markets, and has conducted research in Africa using text messages to gather data on food security and brand preferences.

GeoPoll counts among its clients the U.N. World Food Program, USAID, World Bank, African Development Bank, soft drink and consumer electronics firms, and other market research firms.

During the 2014 FIFA World Cup, GeoPoll used mobile surveys to launch the first-ever daily TV ratings in five African markets — Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana. While African football fans sat around watching football, their preferences and habits were measured via text messages.

Based in the Netherlands, Control Union is an agricultural logistics management company with a global network of inspection operations. It specializes in independent worldwide cargo surveying and has inspection and laboratory services in more than 60 countries. The company says its certificates are accepted in just about every country.
This partnership has wide-reaching benefits for the African agricultural industry including suppliers, brands, and nonprofits, GeoPoll said.

Smallholder farmers are always looking for access to better markets, and this partnership will help educate and monitor farmers looking to certify their products and enter these markets, said GeoPoll CEO Steve Gutterman

“At the moment, it is very difficult to reach smallholder farmers to determine if they are following the right processes to gain food certifications,” Gutterman said. “The wide reach of the mobile phone enables us to send push-content messages and surveys which will help them gain these certifications, adding value to their products.”

GeoPoll’s first African survey was conducted in 2011 in the Democratic Republic of Congo for World Bank.

In addition to offices in Denver and Washington, D.C., the market research company has an office in Nairobi with 10 employees, and has a presence in Ghana and South Africa with one employee each.
The partnership will focus initially on Africa including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Later it will expand to Indonesia and the Philippines.
Consumers are demanding increased transparency and GeoPoll surveys will focus on the following agricultural industries: coffee, cocoa, cotton, fresh fruits and vegetables, palm oil, rice, tea and tobacco.
New mobile survey products

Over the next few months, GeoPoll and Control Union will work together to partner with commercial organization and nonprofits looking to engage with smallholder farmers.

They will gather data via mobile surveys on topics including transparency, compliance, and sustainability.
GeoPoll and Control Union plan to launch several mobile products. These include:

— Value chain monitoring: mobile survey instruments that serve as a tool for sustainable value chain design and monitor social, economic and ecological impact.
— Certification surveys: mobile survey instruments that monitor farmers’ compliance with programs such as Global GAP and organic certifications. Global GAP is non-governmental organization that sets voluntary standards for certification of agricultural products around the world.
— Custom surveys: mobile survey instruments with customized questions and design, allowing clients to collect mobile data that will inform and enhance operations in local markets.
— Compliance messages: one-way push-content messages promoting agricultural compliance.

The partnership will allow international suppliers and consumers to understand what is going on at a local level, bringing increased transparency to the supply chain, Gutterman said. This will benefit smallholder farmers because it will enable them to engage more directly with consumers and ultimately expand their businesses.

“We are excited about the wide-reaching potential of the partnership and think it will be an excellent use of GeoPoll’s multimodal platform,” Gutterman said.

The survey tools will allow exporters, suppliers, global brands, governments and non-profits to monitor and ensure transparency and social compliance in key agricultural value chains, GeoPoll said.
“Accessing information from the most remote farming communities will no longer be a barrier to asking or answering consumer questions,” said Johan Maris, managing director of Control Union, in a prepared statement.

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