Thank you for your comment Jehanzeb Chaudhri I've gone through your idea and would love to discuss things in detail. As for your query, our target area has been resources from academia who in our opinion are in the best position to provide neutral advisory to the farmers. Professors from University of Agriculture, Rawalpindi have made themselves as per commercial arrangements and now agri-businesses have also expressed interest to provide their experts making use of the reach the platform holds.
g) This is exactly what we want - our farmers and subscribers to graduate from 2G services to 3G services and handsets however going by our insights, it will be a time taking process. We do not plan to stick to this 2G product along and are already developing product for a more progressive target market - I hope to share with you the details of our social platform which should be live in the next two weeks or so. The whole idea behind the platform is to give users an agri centric experience where they don't need to search for needles in a haystack.
I hope I've answered your queries satisfactorily and will definitely contact you in person as well to discuss in greater detail. We realise that academia is a strong role player in this domain whose support will be essential in helping us take the next step.
Wow Ali - glad you gave it such a thorough read. Firstly, all the concerns you have highlighted certainly exist and are exactly what we are tackling at the present. I will try to do justice to your queries with my answers, however, would have preferred to explain them to you in person. Nonetheless:
a) Initially, our model was entirely based on the information provided by the farmer. The service would only get activated once the farmer had provided his information to the call center agent. However, the model was not sustainable due to the operational cost and our target with regards to acquiring new subscribers which is time bound. At the present, the cropping pattern information is provided by CABI Pakistan and we use it to make an assumption before launching a promotional campaign for e.g. as per CABI Pakistan, sugarcane is the dominant crop in Rahim Yar Khan during this season; therefore subscribers from Rahim Yar Khan would get sugarcane related information by default. However, they would have the option of changing it by lodging a request with our help center. The request can be raised by dialing a short-code upon which the agent would call back inside 24 hours to help the farmer change his/her profile.
b) Our objective to start off with was to provide the farmers with neutral and unbiased advisory from a government vetted source. Having said that, we realise our strength is not that of an agriculture extension unit and we see ourselves as enablers and platform providers. Therefore, we are targeting multiple stakeholders within the agriculture value chain i.e. academia, NGOs, input suppliers, food processors and government institutions to partner with us and use our reach to get through to these farmers much quicker than on-ground channels. We hope to have at least five partnerships materialise over the next two months. As for the quality of our advisory, we have not pursued comparisons with other sources and have left the decision to the farmer to make the call and at the moment it seems to be paying off since our content does advertise extensive use of external elements let alone a particular brand of a product.
c) The weather accuracy issue is our key challenge at the present without doubt which is amplified by the fact that the output to the farmer is in audio - transforming textual weather into stylised audio content for 36 districts on a daily basis is a major challenge. We have successfully been able to automate half of the process but the extracting weather forecast on a daily basis is still manual. The major aspect of the challenge, however, is with regards to the source of the weather forecast. We started off with the MET department but had to bid adieu within weeks due to the poor accuracy. Presently, we use data from well reputed public sources such as BBC, Yahoo and Accuweather but our objective is to have a single consistent source. And for that, we're looking to establish partnerships with organisations like aWhere to provide us with GPS based weather forecasts - our pilot with them is about to kick off. In parallel, we are working on a project with the University of Faisalabad whereby our cell sites can be used as weather stations gauging the attenuation in signal strength which of course is affected by weather stations - the results are expected in the next 12 months.
d) Telenor Pakistan has created a separate vertical for Mobile Agriculture and the objective behind that is to open another revenue stream, however, directly monetizing the service for just access to information is least preferred option. During our post launch market research campaigns, users have indicated propensity to pay for the current value proposition but we still feel there is a long way to go before the platform reaches that level. Right now, we want to bring on board agri-businesses like input suppliers and food processors to use our platform for co-branding and reaching out to farmers (for e.g. their experts on our live shows) and if these commercial partnerships work out, we will have a successful business case on our hands.
e) Honestly speaking, we have not focused on using the data acquired by the platform with regards to usage patterns since our objective till date has been to get the users on board and have them use the platform in the first place. But we do realise the value it holds and how it could enable us to make our platform more intelligent and dynamic - certainly something for the future.
f) Valid point and we have had lengthy discussions with RML as well over the learnings they gathered. Fortunately, we have already witnessed product promoters who have been happy to adopt due to the lack of alternate sources and the key idea here is not to stop at just access to information and that too from a single source. We have teams who are already working on evaluating financial services products for small holder farmers that can complement our existing offering.