7 February 2013

Nigeria: Phone for Farmers Project to Boost Mobile Money

The proposed phone for farmers' project by the Federal Government, if fully and religiously implemented, will usher in a new era of financial and citizen services delivery across Nigeria, the Executive Director, One Network, Mr. Sola Bickersteth, has said.

One Network, is an industry-focused organisation whose target is to deploy mobile money agents across the country.

Bickersteth, in a telephone chat with THISDAY, noted aside the fact the project will provide the basic relationship between rural farmers and the three tiers of government, the project can also lead to financial inclusion and access to rural areas.

He stated that the partnership between the Ministries of Agriculture and Communications Technology can help spur industry growth and play a key role in the emerging mobile money ecosystem in the country, especially in the area of expanding financial service agency network in rural areas.

He said: "It is laudable that the project is coming at a time when mobile money operators are preparing for full service role out and other CBN licensed financial institutions are preparing for a new regime of agency banking where local chemist shops, provision stores or similar small neighbourhood business outlets can apply to qualify to become agent bank locations and make it possible for members of every community to access basic financial services."

He explained that the initiative has being extremely successful in countries like Kenya and Uganda, where a lot of businesses have being integrated into the mobile money initiative.

He, however, advocated for the government to have an alternative means for the farmers to continually power and recharge their phones.

"The ministries must ensure that the phones can always be charged using solar and/or battery phone chargers," he said.

On his part, the Director, Paradigm Initiative of Nigeria, Mr. Gbenga Sesan, said the use of ICTs in the development of any sector is great idea, adding that is also good that government agencies are teaming up.

He said: "Ideally, it's wrong to focus on buying phones for farmers instead of either building information needs on the phones the farmers already have or getting telcos to offer bundles that'll include phones, access to information and more, considering the scale of participation in the country."

Just like Bickersteth, Sesan added that if successfully implemented, the impact of the project would give the same result as the Kenya M-pesa for the Nigeria agricultural sector.

He said: "The phone for farmers project would go a long way to optimise the CBN's mobile money initiative which is a veritable tool to create payment access to the unbanked Nigerian in rural areas, and also help drive financial inclusion in the country.

"If successful then farmers can boycott middle-men, get access to relevant information, share details of produce to help with inventory/transportation management as well as join the band wagon on the Mobile Money initiative," he said.

However, Sesan stated that poor service quality has remained an unsolved issue in the telecoms sector and would sure affect the use of phones for calls, SMS among others.

"If the farmers need to access online information as part of the project, this will also be a major challenge which must be addressed together with the telecoms operators," he said.

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