A simple exchange system
08 August 2012
Farmers in Kenya and Nigeria use a unique SMS service to share information. Next2’s SMS service in Kenya and Nigeria lets farmers share local knowledge, expertise and experiences with each other, and with agricultural researchers.
Next2 was co-founded by internet and mobile entrepreneurs, Emeka Okoye and Brian Puckett. The idea for an easy-to-use SMS service came to Puckett one day when he was looking to buy fresh, organic, local food for his young family in Virginia, USA. There was no convenient way to find or communicate, offline or online, with local farmers to find out what products were currently available for sale.
During his research, Puckett came to three important conclusions. First, since people that live and work near each other share common experiences, backgrounds and characteristics, it makes sense to first ask those nearby when looking for particular types of information. In other words, location is an effective way to quickly filter large amounts of information, and it is this concept that is at the heart of the Next2 solution.
Second, irrespective of where we live, most people spend a considerable amount of time each day thinking about finding, buying and/or preparing food for themselves and their families. Having to make decisions about food is something we all share. It is fundamental to the human condition.
Last, the opportunity to work on a problem that affects a wide number of people, incorporating issues like food security, and increasing the income of small-scale farmers in emerging markets, drove Okoye and Puckett to design their SMS service. They specifically developed Next2 for those who do not have access to the internet or smartphones. The system works on any phone that can send and receive text messages, and gives farmers the possibility to share their concerns, experience and expertise, and to find others with similar interests.
The two developers built their solution to accomplish two goals. First, to facilitate the exchange of local agricultural knowledge and expertise between farmers based on common locations and interests. Second, Next2 promotes the rapid dissemination of agricultural research and best practices to farmers by giving them direct access to information from a wide range of sources using only their cell phones and SMS messaging technology. The aim, therefore, was to provide small-scale farmers with the information they would need to improve crop yield, product marketing and income.
Setting up and operating a two-way SMS service can be a complex and costly task, but this system provides a simple and efficient method of distributing timely, customised content without the need for special equipment, or expertise, and is available at a fraction of the cost of other SMS shortcode and keyword services. Next2 designed the service to be as easy to use as possible.
For example, an organisation that wants to publish information by SMS can login on the Next2 website, set up a unique account name, and add keywords and messages that can be sent when someone sends those keywords to the system. A farmer looking for information starts a text message with the word ‘get’ followed by the publisher’s account name and sends the message to the Next2 country phone number: 5557 in Kenya, or 08093500162 in Nigeria.
Next2 automatically sends back that publisher’s keyword(s) to the farmer’s mobile. The farmer can then text ‘get’ followed by the publisher’s account name, plus the keyword to receive a message of up to 800 characters (five text messages) on that topic. The farmers only need to know a Next2 account name to discover the information that a particular organisation, or business, makes available.
The farmers do not pay for the messages sent to them, only for the messages they send to the system, which cost the same as sending a regular SMS. Businesses and organisations can promote their service by listing their account name with the local Next2 phone number.
When a farmer sends a ‘get’ request, the system automatically creates an account name for that individual. The farmer can also register first by texting ‘reg’ plus an account name and location, e.g. ‘reg Robert Nairobi’. The system can then use the location information to create a ‘sharing circle’ of other users who have logged on within a 10 kilometres radius.
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