This is what agribusiness needs to do to operate in a better way

The speed at which technology is advancing these days is astonishing and beyond imagination. From the leading innovators in Silicon Valley, quick adopters in Lagos, to the impassioned users in Dar Es Salaam, everyone is puzzled at the extent to which technology is advancing.

Just in recent old centuries, a sisal company in need of raw materials, had to travel by ship from London to Tanganyika to meet the prospective suppliers. In a similar fashion, coffee producers in Karagwe had to follow the same route in a bid to search for potential buyers in Europe. A single voyage could take up to three months much less the time spent to engage the hosts, negotiate business terms and getting the trading rights.

Today, one needs not to fret following the same routes which Vasco Da Gama passed to get to India or elsewhere, as more or less similar motives can be reached through electronic means. WhatsApp can connect prospective buyers and sellers through messaging, audio and video communication. If more participants will be needed, then Skype, Zoom or related platforms can help holding virtual meetings of businesspersons from any part of the world as if they are in the same room.

If preliminary agreements are reached, a Letter of Credit and other related documents can easily be sent by email and received in a blink of an eye. Since commodities are no longer transported through dhows propelled by monsoon winds thanks to advent of modern ships in a post-World War II era, perishable agricultural products may not have to rot in the way as three days or so may be enough to arrive at the destined continent.

There is no study at the moment that has successfully come up with costs difference, but everyone agrees that the advent of technology has lessen business costs and made a profession even easier to engage in.

That being said, there is a great confusion on the acceptance of many of innovations that seeks to address several bottlenecks in the agricultural sector. For the sake of privacy their names won’t be revealed, however circumstances that bedevilled them will be a point of focus.

Some developers with an ambitious vision of simplifying trade through electronic means, came up with a ‘solution’. This development required trade partners, who have to begin by subscribing to the system, to be ready to share their products’ details which had to include exact location, in Tanzania and some other neighbouring countries in the region. Assuming that trade terms are reached, all trade partners had to give bank account details to the organization which now acts as a guarantor and bondholder at the same time.

A guarantor will wire transfer the money to the seller after being sure that the goods in the warehouse have been accepted and delivery process is underway. As noted before an entire process is done electronically, no physical meeting until goods delivery step is reached. Anyone seeing this entire pattern will be excused if he/she unconsciously make a thunderous eureka.

In short, it is nearly five years now down the drain, with hundreds of millions of shillings as an investment and no business has ever been executed through this electronic platform. Yes, nada, zilch, zero, none!
And this sends me to the very point that I wanted to share.

What caused this failure are very simple facts; Tanzanians are highly sceptics with new technologies, most especially when it involves money transfer through a third party. What developers overlooked is that the guarantor had to be too trustworthy or the system should have been very transparent for everyone to see the process.

Secondly, security is a very expensive good in some areas in the country and the region. Unveiling your warehouse’s location that contains certain commodities of a particular quality is equivalent to sending an antelope to the pride’s lions and expect it to get out safely.

People had to ditch the technology, not because the problem didn’t exist but rather it didn’t take in to consideration the culture and environment that future users operated.

So, it is either of the two, you either invest too much in research and product development, for the sake of getting what exactly the market would respond to, or you advertise too much and make everyone co-opt your product. If one doubts on the efficacy of the latter, Coca cola might serve as the very best example. Just imagine one happily drinking a mere carbonated water like pepsi or sprite. But that’s akin to imposing a solution.

The former one scores a lot more points. Any technological invention that seeks to have a permanent place in contemporary agricultural business, has to solve ‘real’ problems and more importantly make consumers co-opt it rather than dragging them towards it, that’s when one can create loyal customers for long time.

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