Eoin Treacy's view -
Populous Ethiopia has one of the fastest growing GDPs on the continent after years of famine and civil war. The nation now has one of the largest "agricultural extension" systems in the world, after major powers such as China and India. These days it is a broad term but generally it means the educating farmers on how to apply scientific research and new farming methods. The nation has some 60,000 agricultural extension officers. The 8028 phone service is a new component of that. Farmers can request targeted information via SMS or Interactive Voice Response. The project, still in its pilot phase, began in July and according to a government source has already had calls from some three million farmers. It is run and operated by government ministries and the national telco and it was created by the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA). The Economist reported last year that Ethiopia lags behind its neighbors in terms of cell phone penetration; only 25 percent of its 90 million people use cell phones compared with the regional average of 70 percent.
"Farmers can 'pull' practical, real-time advice available in their regional language by calling 8028 as often as they like," says Ato Khalid Bomba, Chief Executive Officer of ATA. "The hotline administrator can 'push' customized content (such as in cases of drought, pest and disease) to callers based on crop, geographic or demographic data captured when farmers first register to use the system." Given the dozens of languages spoken, targeted information remains important, though the system is only operating in some half dozen of the more than 60 regions in Ethiopia at this point. It’s estimated that currently the 90 service lines get close to 1375 phone calls each hour.
Africa has not been spared from the pressure coming to bear on commodity producers with currencies and stock markets pulling back. However when one contrasts the improving governance and positive demographics of Africa compared to the deterioration in somewhere like Russia, the current period of underperformance represents a potential entry opportunity when signs of bottoming emerge.
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