IGF 2019 – Day 0 – Saal Europa – Pre-Event #53 Electricity, Community Networks and Digital Inclusion: The case of the underserved communities

The following are the outputs of the real-time captioning taken during the Fourteenth Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Berlin, Germany, from 25 to 29 November 2019. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid to understanding the proceedings at the event, but should not be treated as an authoritative record. 



>> MODERATOR: So, ladies and gentlemen, we now come to our next speaker and our next speaker is Ms. Su Kahumbu Stephanau and she's the CEO, the floor is yours and we're glad to hear more about your country.

>> SU KAHUMBU STEPHENAU: Thank you.  Dear Federal Minister, Peter Altermeier, excellencies, ministers of all stakeholders.  Good afternoon.  I feel very honored today to present this forum or innovation and my opportunity to share with you how my constituents use the internet, the big gaps.  My name, as mentioned, is Su Kahumbu Staphanau.  My company has been building ‑‑ to offer small holder farmers a very verified and reliable agriculture center available 24/7 on their mobile phones.  Our platform is available to the farmers through a service called iCOW and covers all aspects of the farmer system.  Life stock, crops, soils, insects, disguises and even farm and family health.  We're farmers building for farmers with farmers.  Or ethos is six.  We care about each individual and aspire to give them access to best practices across the multiple microvalue chains they support and we do this against the tied of big ag farmer pushing capitalist irresponsible practices like the sale of pesticides in Kenya that are banned in Europe.

We take our responsibility seriously, iCOW was built for low end basic feature phones accessible through a code.  Farmers follow features which lead them to the content of their choice and this content then delivered to them as SMS in their preferred language.  We love SMS.  This is very shareable and it's contributing to a great multiplier effect.

Our first build was for low end feature phone because these are the devices the majority of our target market own.  The internet is not on the horizon for many.

Team iCOW and I are building this service to ensure that small holder farmers across Africa do not get left behind.  To ensure there's a level playing field for our future irrespective of device or technology and to ensure that we're prepared to feed and nourish or growing populations on the continent that are set to double over the next 30 years.

Our USSD version of iCOW is currently used by tens of thousands of farmers in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia and researchers have shown that within a year, farmers double their yield and profitability.  There's no magic involved.  We simply help farmers optimize their ‑‑ we also connect them to relevant experts on the ground and to a virtual farmer to farmer marketplace called iCOW Sokhov.  We found the top three investments made p by new farmers with revenues are feeds, improving and expanding farming activity and their homes.  In effect, it's creating prosperity and wealth capitalizing from the ground up.

We're also seeing increased purchases of Telco product and services, air time, smartphones and data.  We're seeing a slow but sure uptake and increasingly enough, most farmers who do buy smartphones continue to use feature phones at the same time.  Each phone purpose or type is based.  Current studies are underway to determine the effect of iCOW on nutrition as well as its current and future contribution to national food.  If

The reason the internet is not on the horizon for many small holder farmers is largely due to the devices.  The feature phone is the preferred device in the farming communities because it's affordable, it's reliable, it's robust and it can stay charged for days at a time.  Availability of electricity influences the types of devices farmers purchase.

Absence of electricity at home, charging a phone costs between U.S. cents ten to 20 sentences each time and requires a farmer to leave his or her farm or send the phone to a place before it can be charged.  Many charge their phones on market days when they're off farm in market days.

The gap between feature phones and smartphones is significant.  In addition to being more expensive and having short battery charge intervals, other configurations of having smartphones include internet costs, as access, quality, robustness of phones and repair and maintenance costs.

The gaps, however, are slowly being filled with new operating systems and affordable hybrid smart feature phones.  These phones have all the benefits of feature phones and can access the p internet and they're comparable in price to feature phones at 20 to $30 a piece.

They do, however, have their limitations but a great bridge across the digital crevice.  We've recently built a new app where farmers have access.  We have a small but growing number using these from the following countries.  Nigeria, Zambia, Tanzania, Sudan, South Africa, Rwanda, Morocco, Mauritania, Uganda.  However, until the proliferation of these across Africa, many farmers will still use feature phones.  One of the barriers to rural communities is the cost and the bulk of this cost is SMS.

Over the years, we've learned that the model farmers are paying is not satisfactory and in fact, this model contributes to increasing the knowledge gap and the digital divide as not all farmers can afford to pay and those who can't afford to pay are the most in need.

In 2018, my team and I committed to ensure that the iCOW platform is available to farmers for free.  We were lucky to have 1Telco to agree to this.  Safari Com in Kenya where 108,000 farmers currently access 3 million content‑rich messages each month for free.  In a country of millions of small holder farmers, though, this is not enough and on a continent of tens of millions of farmers, this is insignificant.

Our aim is for access across Africa.  The levers to social enterprise driven scalable USSD services are the mobile network operators, the Telcos.  Most on the African continent, are, however, commercial entities existing in cut throat competitive arena yet they are the highways for USSD compatible solutions.  They are the only highways.  I firmly believe the Telcos are an integral piece.  Without them, I fear we should fail in nourishing Africa.  The process of this is unthinkable.

Today, almost 60 million children under the age of five in Africa are stunted.  We're the only continent where this number is increasing.  At home, in Kenya, it's estimated that 10 million people suffer from malnutrition.  That's a quarter of our population.  In 2050, in 30 years, the population of Africa is projected to be 2.5 billion people, double what it is today.  Within that time, we could, if we continue agriculture the way we have today, be looking at an infinite number of cropping seasons.  The things have to change.

Business cannot be as usual.  The first rung on the ladder toward internet inclusivity for millions of small holder farmers in Africa starts with enabling farmers to increase their wealth and I believe the door for transformation through millions is built on USSD solutions, built on the devices that they have in their hands.

And as such, I would like to end with four takeaways.  One, we must begin to think of USSD services as a strategy toward event you'll internet inclusivity and develop new policies and incentive to encourage the Telcos, the MNOs to participate with partners in developing this first rung.  Stable transformative solutions over USSD.  We need to invest in developing partnerships and ecosystems to make this happen.

Two, we must continue to invest in rural electrification across Africa.  Internet connectivity is impossible without electricity.

Three, we must invest in developing mobile phones and operating systems that are farmer appropriate.  Phones that are durable, repairable, that add values to farmers and other stakeholders.

Maybe since base phones, microwebber stations.  And four, finally, we must ensure Africa farmers have access to free, sustainable education 24/7 as soon as possible.  It is our collective ethical responsibility to ensure we leave no one behind.  We must act quickly and collectively, like there's no tomorrow.  Thank you for your attention


>> And then the Telco has capacity, you can do tradeoffs and so these are the things we're looking to do in Ghana where you can Mary connectivity and electricity.

>> Thank you, panel.  We appreciate your time today, and I hope you found that useful.  Remember, it's about coverage and you can't fight poverty without electricity.  You can't deal with anything without it.  So, let's bear that in mind as we build.

>> Okay. Thank you.

>> And just for your information, there's a live document that's going to be published online where all this conversation will continue generically and we look to have as the document before Friday.  So, this is going to be published on two sites and it will be tweeted so thank you, everyone.  So, with that, that's a wrap.  Apologies to the next session.

>> Anyone who is here?


Please do stay for the next session.  We're going to be talking about the convention of the rights of the child and its relevance to the digital world.