Kenyan connection in Nigerian Forbes’ award

A Kenyan mobile app has propelled a Nigerian minister to winning the Forbes Person of the Year award.

The application, seen by many as showcasing how technology can be used to transform agriculture and improve the lives of citizens, is the brainchild of local firm Cellulant and its enterprising founder, Ken Njoroge.

Nigeria’s Minister for Agriculture Akinwumi Adesina walked away with the Forbes Person of the Year award, ahead of four other nominees.

Dr Adesina was nominated for his bold reforms in Nigeria’s agriculture sector, having introduced an Electronic Wallet that enabled farmers to receive electronic vouchers for subsidised seeds and fertilisers.

Use of the mobile phone application allowed six million smallholder farmers to receive electronic vouchers directly and to pay for farm inputs from private farm input dealers.

Before its introduction, the farmers relied on middlemen to get the fertiliser, exposing them to corruption and exploitation. Use of the electronic vouchers has enabled farmers to pay for the fertilisers directly in the retail shops, cutting out the middlemen.

Mr Njoroge, the Cellulant CEO, described reforms in Nigeria’s agriculture sector as a complex issue that cannot be solely attributed to Cellulant’s technology. But Mr Njoroge said having worked with Dr Adesina for more than two years it was not surprising that the latter had won recognition.

“His foresight and understanding of the role technology can play in agriculture is truly unique. In our nine years of work in the 10 countries, we have not seen any executive or minister with that clarity of purpose and commitment to execution in applying mobile commerce technology to impact on people’s lives. This is truly remarkable,” Mr Njoroge said.

Other finalists for the 2013 award were Strive Masiyiwa, founder of Econet Wireless in Zimbabwe, Aliko Dangote of Dangote Group, South African mining magnate Patrice Motsepe and Jim Ovia, founder of Zenith Bank Group.

Forbes Africa also bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award on Manu Chandaria, founder of East African industry conglomerate Comcraft Group of Companies in a ceremony that was held at the Villa Rosa Kempinski Hotel in Nairobi.

“Akinwumi Adesina was considered a worthy winner by the judges as he is a man on a mission to help Africa feed itself. We hope it will encourage the rest of the continent to grow more of its own food,” said Chris Bishop, Forbes Africa managing editor.

Following suggestions from the public, the top five most voted for candidates were posted online in a poll, which comprised a portion of the Person of the Year judges’ final decision.
“Through his establishment of the East Africa Business Council, Mr Chandaria has been a driving force in the rollout of the East African Community, which has provided local corporations with wider avenues, thus enabling their growth,” said Davlynne Lidbetter, the general manager of Forbes Africa, in her speech.

With a combined GDP of around $100 billion and a population of 140 million people, establishing a regional network of businesspeople is seen as a huge step towards promoting intra-African trade.
Success of the electronic wallet system has made Nigeria the first country in Africa to reach farmers with subsidised farm inputs through the mobile phone.

With the mobile wallet, an accredited farmer receives allocation of fertiliser through a PIN sent to his or her phone, which the recipient then takes to the bank and pays at a subsidised rate. After the payment, the farmer is given a voucher which he uses to collect the fertiliser from an accredited agro distributor.

Previously, Nigeria had provided subsidy through its network of warehouses across the country, but only 11 per cent of the fertiliser reached farmers. This slowed down growth of the agriculture sector, threatening food security.

The mobile wallet allows e-registration and validation of farmers and provides tracking tools to allow other players to participate in value addition.

Cellulant has operations in Kenya, Nigeria and the UK besides clients in Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa and Botswana. Its most visible business is the provision of ring tones.
Some of its local clients include KCB,Barclays and Standard Chartered banks that use its mobile banking platforms.

The software firm has powered mobile banking for StanChart for three years across five countries in Africa (Ghana, Zambia, Botswana, Nigeria and Kenya). The goal is to roll out this across all the bank’s markets in Africa.

The software has enabled the bank’s customers to enjoy mobile banking, merchant payments, web payments, digital content and agency banking on their phones.