Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Marketing Taken a Step Higher

Marketing is one of the most profitable niches to anyone who knows how to take advantage of the supply, demand and need of the consumer on any type of product. In Ng'arua, there is a problem with middlemen taking advantage of the poor producers, who have no other option but to operate through the middleman as there is no alternative market. It is for this reason that new marketing systems are developed in order to ensure that the producer gets more of a fair price for their products.

‘Tele-marketing’ as it has come to be known by the locals of Ng’arua Division is one of the systems that has been established to try and eliminate exploitation of the producer by the middleman. This system will be to the benefit of the community in this area. They have managed to increase production of crops through rainwater harvesting.

What is the 'Tele-marketing’ system?
This is not the system’s original name but has come to be known so in this region to enhance simplicity in explaining the system to the locals. The system is originally referred to as the Agricultural Commodity Platform System (A.C.P.S.).

This is a system aimed at bringing different people together in relation to markets and marketing of products and or commodities. This system has been introduced to this region by the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) in conjunction with Virtual City, a company that deals with making of marketing systems for different companies depending on their marketing strategies. This is the first system of its kind that is being introduced to directly deal with the community in the rural setting.

Training was first carried out to enlighten the community representatives in the Ng’arua Community Knowledge Centre (CKC) on the need, use and general operation of the system. Ng’arua CKC will benefit from the system because this will increase the number and diversity of clients who visit the centre on a daily basis. This category of clients is most likely to be made up of the older people in the society who are mainly farmers.

How to install the system
The system has two major components:

A Smart Phone
This is a phone that has improved capability compared to a normal phone. Additional features include increased connectivity such as BlueTooth and infrared, a memory card, a touch screen. The smartphone operates much like a small handheld computer. It size makes it portable and fairly user-friendly. In the marketing context, the phone is referred to as a P.D.A –Personal Digital Assistant. The PDA is the one that will be used by the field officer to register the details of the people involved in the product marketing chain. These include traders, farmers, transporters and other service providers.

The PDA will be handed over to the Field Officer who will have to :
>Collect information on farm produce. The information is stored in the PDA
>Register the necessary people and groups in the market chain of a product
>Try and enlighten farmers /producers on better packaging of their produce for a better market
>Try and give general advice to farmers

Commodity Resource Platform (CRP)
This system is more of a computer but with most of its systems disabled, so that it only works as a server for the Agricultural Commodity Platform. The CRP is a machine that will be in the office and unlike the PDA it is not portable and so cannot be taken to the field. However information can be registered or entered into the CRP without using the PDA. This may include farming tips, events, products and bids. Registration can also be done directly in the CRP without the use of the PDA. The CRP can either work online or offline - with or without internet connection.

Any information entered into the PDA is later transferred to the CRP through a process known as synchronization. The CRP allows the user to access the latest market information such as new bids, commodities, prices as well as any reports or debates. The system is usually operated by an administrator who performs a number of duties. These duties include co-coordination of the system, regularly synchronizing data, updating information and helping users to access the system.

Through the pre-installation trainings conducted in the CKC, many were able to understand how the system works. The training was useful since previously many thought of the new technology as only for the young and educated in the Ng’arua Community. The one-on-one training allowed them to understand the system and see that it is not difficult to operate.

The PDA is also a very fragile phone and requires a lot of care when being handled, especially when in the field as repair and maintenance is very expensive. Security is also an issue. The system also needs to be backed up with a reliable source of power to ensure that it is always operational even with the frequent power black-outs.

Another major problem will be to do with access. The system requires registered people to subscribe to content via e-mail or mobile phone in order to receive information. Each individual in the product marketing chain will therefore be required to have an e-mail account or a mobile phone in order to access the information which does not include everyone in the community. In addition, only registered members with a username and password will be able to buy and or sell their products. Non-registered members can only access information and cannot sell or buy anything through the system. Those registered will also have a chance to access latest bids on commodities as well as product prices in different parts of the country. In addition, usage of the system requires at least basic computer literacy which does not apply to all of the people in the community.

However once joined, the platform is very convenient in that it can accommodate images thus giving a clear picture of a commodity or service. It also allows interaction through the discussion board or forum increasing the sharing of information. The system also enables networking and creation of lasting relationships in terms of products marketing.

In addition, there will be a general reduction of middlemen exploitation as buyers and sellers can interact directly. Moreover, demand can be easily established by checking the system thus allowing for better planning and pricing of products. This can then lead to increased production of more commercially viable products. In time, this will lead to improved livelihoods within the community.

One of a kind
Tele-marketing has been used by various companies to sell and buy products. Virtual City has developed a number of such systems for companies in the country. However, the system has not been taken to the community and this system in Ng’arua will be the first to deal directly with the producer in the rural setting.

The Way Forward
The use of A.C.P.S. for marketing will be improved on an individual basis because the system will be in a central information centre in the CKC. People visiting the centre will also have an opportunity to learn more and access other information through the internet or through borrowing books and periodicals. There is also need to strengthen collaboration among different parties in product marketing chain in the community to facilitate collective marketing for better pricing.
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