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Picking Money from the Baobab Tree 

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The fruit of the highly revered African baobab tree is being seen as a great new opportunity for the poor, after a recent decision by the European Commission to allow its importation. According to one study, gathering the fruit has the potential to earn an extra US $1 billion a year for Africa, and bring work and income to 2.5 million households, most of them African bush dwellers (Britain’s Natural Resources Institute).

The fruit of the African baobab tree is mostly collected in the wild from the ancient trees, which can live for 500 years, with some as old as 5,000 years. The baobob enjoys the veneration and respect traditionally accorded to age in Africa, and features in many stories and myths.

The fruit is seen as highly nutritious and a new taste option for the European market. This could be a major potential boost to Africa; the European Union is the world’s biggest trader, accounting for 20 percent of global imports and exports, and a major trading partner of most African countries. South Africa alone exports Euro 20.9 billion a year to Europe (2007).

But serious concerns have been raised about how the harvesting of the fruit will be done, and under what conditions. Getting this right is critical if the sustainability of the fruit is to be maintained, local populations are to benefit, and local use of this food source — eaten by both people and animals — does not suffer.

European food and drink companies are looking to use the fruit of the tree to flavour a large range of products, from cereal to drinks.

Baobab fruit is valued for its alleged medicinal properties in treating fevers and diarrhoea, and as a calcium supplement.

“The potential is huge … We’re quite confident that it’s going to represent significant returns for rural producers,” Dr. Lucy Welford, marketing manager of PhytoTrade Africa, a trade organisation that campaigns for the sustainable use of African natural products, told Reuters.

“I’d say it’s somewhere between grapefruit and tamarind as a kind of flavour,” said Welford, who expects baobab fruit to be used at first to flavour smoothies and cereal bars. It could also be used in juices, ice-creams and jams or bakery products.

PhytoTrade works with South African firm Afriplex, which supplies baobab fruit pulp and extracts.

A refreshing juice made from baobab fruit pulp, known as “bouye” is widely served.

“The tart flavour, the interesting vitamin and nutrition profile and the sexy story that goes with it — that it’s wild harvested from a very lovely tree — these things add value to the existing products,” said marketing economist Ben Bennet, who wrote the 2007 Natural Resources Institute’s report.

In the baobab forests around Tandene village in Senegal, local farmers said they looked forward to earning much more from the trees. Prices for a kilo of baobab fruit varied between 40 US cents and a dollar, they said.

“If people know (that European consumers will buy the product) then they’ll look after the trees better and feed them less to their animals,” said farmer Alassane Sy.

Chido Makunike, an active commentator on food and agricultural issues in Africa, raises some serious concerns about how this is handled. “Being a non-cultivated forest product, who ‘owns’ the baobab fruit? Can anybody just take a truck into the forest, collect the fruit and export it? Obviously the sudden dramatic change in the economic importance of the baobab will open up many questions that will need regulation.”

He worries the fruit will just be exported in its raw form, and processed into products in Europe – leaving Africa and Africans the ones who benefit least economically.

“Yet baobab is a dry, not-easily perishable, easy to process fruit,” he said. “It would not be difficult to have the smoothies and cereal bars that are being contemplated for its use made in Africa and exported as finished product, producing many downstream benefits and keeping more of the wealth to be generated within the continent.”

Published: October 2008

Resources

  • The Chamber of Commerce for Switzerland is specially targeting trade deals with Africa and its entrepreneurs. Website: www.swisscham-africa.ch
  • Food Safety – From the Farm to the Fork is the European Commission’s guidelines on food safety and how to prepare food for import into the European Community. Website: http://ec.europa.eu/food/international/trade/index_en.htm
  • EMN Europe is a company that organises all logistics for importing goods into Europe, including making sure all legal requirements are met.
    Website: www.eurotradeconcept.nl
  • The Baobab Fruit Company Senegal has been producing organic baobab products for the nutrition and cosmetics industries.
    Website: http://www.baobabfruitco.com/
  • The Fairtrade Labelling Organization sets the standards for fair-trade and is the place to go to receive official certification.
    Website: www.fairtrade.org.uk
  • Just Food is a web portal packed with the latest news on the global food industry and packed with events and special briefings to fill entrepreneurs in on the difficult issues and constantly shifting market demands. Websitehttp://www.just-food.com
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MOST READ! Southern Innovator Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology: http://www.scribd.com/doc/57980406/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-1

Southern Innovator Issue 2: Youth and Entrepreneurship: http://www.scribd.com/doc/86451057/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-2

Southern Innovator Issue 3: Agribusiness and Food Security: http://www.scribd.com/doc/105746025/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-3

Southern Innovator Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/128283953/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-4

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Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia: http://www.scribd.com/doc/28633063/Environmental-Public-Awareness-Handbook-Case-Studies-and-Lessons-Learned-in-Mongolia-Part-One

In their own words: Selected writings by journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999: http://www.scribd.com/doc/24832935/In-their-own-words-Selected-writings-by-journalists-on-Mongolia-1997-1999

Mongolian Rock and Pop Book: http://www.scribd.com/doc/23917535/Mongolian-Rock-and-Pop-Book

Mongolian Green Book: http://www.scribd.com/doc/20889227/Mongolian-Green-Book

Mongolia Update 1998 Book: http://www.scribd.com/doc/20864541/Mongolia-Update-1998-Book

Human Development Report Mongolia 1997: http://www.scribd.com/doc/20793173/Human-Development-Report-Mongolia-1997

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Indian Mobile Phone Application Innovators Empower Citizens

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

With mobile phones becoming ubiquitous across the global South, the opportunity to make money – and possible fortunes – by providing ‘apps’ for these devices is now a reality.

Apps (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Application_software) – applications which allow users of new mobile phones to do everything from running a business to banking to navigating chaotic cities – have quickly become a very creative space and a dynamic market for innovators and entrepreneurs. Because they are pieces of software and are relatively inexpensive to create, requiring only time and hard work, an individual working out of their home can develop an app, introduce it to the online marketplace and see if it will succeed.

The only limit is the imagination.

They are also a great way to solve people’s problems and possibly make some money in the process. As economies and cities grow across the South, many everyday difficulties can be tackled with these apps.

Apps are revolutionary because they solve the problem of how to view websites on mobile phones and smartphones (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smartphone). Apps are designed for a small screen and have simple functionality and design. They often can function without any constant connection to the Internet, updating themselves sporadically when the phone can connect with phone networks or the Internet. They are also either free or inexpensive, using micro-payments to make a profit. The essence of the micro-payment business model is to charge a small amount and turn this into a large amount by having large numbers of people download the app. It is a successful business formula that has made many vast fortunes throughout the age of the mass consumer market, which began in the late 19th century.

Bart Decrem, co-founder of Tapulous, a maker of apps for the iPhone (http://tapulous.com), told The Economist: “Apps are nuggets of magic.”

Apps are sold in online stores run by companies like Apple (http://itunes.apple.com/us/genre/ios/id36?mt=8), Google, Sweden’s GetJar (http://www.getjar.com), and South Korea’s SK Telecom. Apple’s store has over 425,000 apps and Google’s Android Market has more than 250,000. Other stores include Mobihand, PocketGear, Mobango, Handango, Blackberry App World and Handster (http://www.handster.com).

Research firm Gartner (http://www.gartner.com/technology/home.jsp) estimated that 18 billion apps have been downloaded since Apple opened its first app store in 2008. Remarkably, it forecasts this number could rise to 49 billion by 2013. The most popular topics include games, weather forecasts, social networks, maps, music and news.

The dynamic documented so far for apps seems to follow the way music charts work. A few apps, out of the many on offer, become big sellers and popular favourites, getting the most users. Partly this reflects the difficulty of quickly searching through all the apps available in the world to find the right one, a process that favours well-marketed apps.

The recent TechSparks 2011 App4India (http://www.facebook.com/techspark) contest showcased the creative thinking about apps now happening in India.

One Indian success story is the 1000Lookz (http://www.vdime.com/pro1.htm) app, developed by Vasan Sowriraj (http://www.vdime.com/about.htm), which helps women perform a virtual beauty makeover. A woman can check what shades work best for her skin tone by using her own photos uploaded to the app. The user adds features like foundation, blush, gloss, eye-shadow, eye-liner and lipstick. The app uses facial recognition and skin tone detection technology to assist the virtual makeover. It was developed by VDime Innovative Works headquarterd in Atlanta, Georgia, with its technology developed by its Indian division.

1000Lookz’ mission is to create “innovative products that bring cheer to consumers’ faces.”

Sowriraj got his experience from working as a key member of the team developing special image processing for the Indian Space and Research Organisation (http://www.isro.org).

The same team has also developed another service enabling users to transform standard emoticons – those cartoons used in electronic communications to convey emotions – into emoticons using your own face image. It is called Humecons (http://www.humecons.com), and its slogan is “Emote Yourself”.

The India TV Guide, based in Bangalore, India’s software hub (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Tech_Park,_Bangalore), is a mobile phone application developed by Jini Labs (http://www.jinilabs.com) offering programme listings for 150 television channels broadcast in India, and allows viewers to save reminders for favourite shows and build favourites lists.

Jini Labs also makes Jini Books (http://itunes.apple.com/in/app/jinibooks/id404988026?mt=8), a clever app to display books, magazines and journals that are hard to find in conventional shops. It is free and promises to have “indie book authors and publishers – including small size, mid-size independent publishers, university presses, e-book publishers, and self-published authors.”

A very useful app improving people’s lives is the Indian Railway Lite app. India’s railways are a critical part of the country’s economy, and the world’s largest railway system. The complexity of trying to work out the train schedule has been made easier with the app.

Founded by Srinath Reddy, the app’s chief technology officer at RSG Software Services (http://www.rsgss.com), the app enables users to discover train connections between stations, and find which trains pass through stations, while navigating the Indian Railways website. It is a good example of how an app can quickly become a big hit. It became the second most popular on the Apple India app store and is downloaded more than 1,000 times a day.

One of the advantages of the app is its ability to function without access to the Internet. It draws on its own database of information and offers a friendlier user interface than the Indian State Railways website.

“This feature has proved to be very popular as users can access train information even while they are travelling and are out of network range,” Reddy told Yourstory.in. “We update the app at regular intervals and the user has to download a new version of the app to get updated information. Trains are generally added once in a few months and the timetable does not change significantly, so the user can use the same version until the next one is released.”

The app’s creators initially found it difficult to get information and updates from Indian Railways.

“We took around four to five months to build the app,” Reddy said. “Significant effort went into compiling the train and station data as this was not easily available. Refining the UI (user interface) took quite some time as well.”

The company saw a market for the app because there were so many iPhone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPhone) users in India. The app was downloaded 45,000 times between June and September, and other versions, including one for Google Android (www.android.com) are in the works to broaden access to people without an iPhone.

The company has its headquarters in Ranchi, India and has four development centers in India located in Delhi, Pune, Ranchi and Hyderabad. Currently, the company has approximately 250 employees with core competencies in Apple, Filemaker and Open Source technologies.

The Tuk Tuk 2 app is a clever and practical application for users of India’s ubiquitous motorized and bicycle rickshaws. They are an important part of the country’s transport infrastructure – but a journey in one can be a stressful experience for many reasons. This app seeks to lesson the stress.

Tuk Tuk 2 app (https://market.android.com/details?id=com.mindhelix.tuktuk2&hl=en) is designed to introduce fairness to the auto rickshaw marketplace. It empowers travellers to track where they are on a journey, check the fare and find the distance covered. It helps to reduce exploitation of travellers and makes sure they know where they are at all times: a powerful resource in crowded, busy and confusing cities.

It was developed by Mind Helix Technologies (http://www.mindhelix.com), founded in 2009 as a dedicated application development company with a mission to empower people with its apps. And that is really what apps are all about!

Resources

1) Mobile phone boot camp: Entrepreneurial Programming and Research on Mobiles: Website: http://www.media.mit.edu/ventures/EPROM/entrepreneurship.html

2) Mobile Active: MobileActive.org connects people, organizations, and resources using mobile technology for social change. Website: http://mobileactive.org/

3) Teams of motorcyclists with mobile phones in Lagos, Nigeria take pictures of traffic gridlock and open road, send it to central control, who grade it “slow”, “moving” or “free” and in turn send the message to subscribers. Website: http://www.traffic.com.ng

4) Southern Innovator magazine: New global magazine’s first issue tackles the boom in mobile phone and information technologies across the global South. Website: www.scribd.com/doc/57980406/Southern-Innovator-Issue-1

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Info Ladies and Question Boxes: Reaching Out to the Poor

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Quick access to accurate and useful information is crucial for development. With the remarkable spread of information around the world via the Internet – one of the greatest achievements of the 21st century – more than 1.5 billion people now use the Web to boost their incomes and opportunities (Internet World Stats).

For those lucky enough to be able to afford regular access to the Internet – as well as a computer and electricity – this new technology is a powerful tool for economic and social advancement. But what about people who are overlooked by technology companies because they are too poor, or too remote, or who are illiterate?

Two initiatives are bringing the benefits of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to the poor and the illiterate in ingenious ways.

Bangladesh’s (http://www.virtualbangladesh.com) ‘Info Lady’ scheme is the brainchild of D.Net (Development Research Network) (http://www.dnet-bangladesh.org/), a non-profit organization formed in 2001 to use information and communication technology (ICT) for economic development.

Info Ladies typically come equipped with a mobile phone, laptop computer, Internet modem, headphone, webcam, digital camera, and photo printer. They roam around remote villages on bicycles and are a one-stop access point for the rural poor for information, telephone calls and digital services like photography. And Info Ladies can also be Info Men, though this seems to be a problem because women have an easier time being invited into people’s homes.

One Info Lady is Luich Akhter Porag. She travels the countryside on her bicycle, equipped with a laptop computer, modem and a mobile phone, and can provide a commercial phone service, photography, livelihood information, knowledge services, international and local voice calls, video and animation and Internet resources.

When farmer Dula Miah had two of his cows bitten by a rabid dog, he was puzzled as to what to do. According to Bangladesh’s Daily Star newspaper, Info Lady Luich Akhter Porag came by to help. By using a software programme called ‘Jeeon’ (http://www.dnet.org.bd/MultimediaSoftware.php?BookType=8) – software designed to provide nine essential services to rural people –  Porag was able to identify the solution: a vaccine and a trip to the Sundarganj Veterinary Hospital.

Around 24 Info Ladies are now working in various villages in the districts of Gaibandha, Noakhali and Satkhira. The concept is effective: after receiving training in how to use the laptop computer and resources, they are dispatched on bicycles to remote villages to connect the poor and uneducated with crucial information.

D.Net started with something they called ‘Mobile Lady’ which used just mobile phones, but became frustrated with the limits of the service and decided to combine the phones with a laptop computer, effectively turning the women into mobile ‘telecentres’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telecentre).

Dr Ananya Raihan, executive director of D.Net, told The Daily Star that each Info Lady now earns between Tk 2,500 (US $36) and Tk 20,000 (US $290) per month. It has proven to be a good business for rural women, he said. And things are set to grow: “We are planning to increase the number of info ladies to 1,000 by year-end (2009).”

While traditional technology companies have stayed away from rural villages because it isn’t worth it for them to go there, the Info Ladies are simultaneously making money in the villages and connecting people to the outside world.

Porag says she has provided services to around 6,000 villagers.

“Now I earn more than Tk 2,500 (US $36) to Tk 3,500 (US $50) per month after becoming an info lady,” said Porag who started working as an Info Lady in June 2007.

Another initiative that is filling the gap between the needs of the poor and powerful information technologies is the Question Box (www.questionbox.org).

Pioneered in India – home to the largest number of illiterate people in the world: 304.11 million (Human Development Report) – the idea is brilliantly simple. An intercom-like white tin box with a phone inside is placed in a village’s public areas. Using the existing phone networks, the user just has to hit a simple button to get an operator at the other end. The operator sits in front of an Internet-enabled computer. The user just asks their question, and the operator turns these questions into search queries. When the computer’s search engine gives back answers, the operator selects the best one and then replies in the user’s native language and in layman’s terms.

The Open Mind Program’s Question Box Project opened its first Box in September 2007 and now operates in Pune, Maharashtra.

It has also expanded to Uganda, where the Question Box and Grameen Foundation (http://www.grameenfoundation.org/) have partnered to bring what they call AppLab Question Box (AQB) to rural Uganda. AQB is a live, local-language telephone hotline service that brings the Internet to the fields and market stalls in Uganda where there are no computers.

The Question Box is based on an idea from Rose Shuman, a business and international development consultant. Shuman had become frustrated that with all the clever people and vast sums of money going into information technology, few were developing low-cost ways to take the power of computers to the people.

Following the constant improvement approach favoured in information technology, the Box is now in its third iteration. One of the adjustments made has been the switch to solar power for the boxes because the electricity grid was too unreliable, according to Shuman.

Resources

1) The Question Box project in photos. Website:http://www.flickr.com/photos/73495762@N00/ and Website: http://www.questionbox.org/ and blog: Website:http://questionblog.posterous.com/
2) Info Dev (www.infodev.org) has a quick guide to low-cost computing devices and initiatives for the developing world. Website: http://www.infodev.org/en/Publication.107.html

Question Box in Southern Innovator Magazine.
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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022