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. They 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, customized content without the need for special equipment, or expertise, and it 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.
Once registered with the service, the farmer can then use one of eight SMS commands to share content with other farmers and content publishers, either in English or a local language, depending on the country. In Kenya, for example, the system works in both English and Swahili.
To send a text message to the system, the farmer begins the text with one of eight commands. This tells the Next2 service how to process the text message, allowing the farmer to start, or stop the service, send a direct text to another farmer or content publisher, change location, increase or decrease the size of their sharing circle, or automatically exchange public or private messages with other farmers. They can text the word "help" at any time to receive a message on how to use Next2.
A farmer can send a text message about a product they have for sale, or would like to buy, or a topic they would like to discuss followed by a subject word, and Next2 automatically exchanges messages between farmers in their area. Each farmer gets the other's message on their cell phone and can use the reply feature to continue the conversation.
As with any service relying on networks, its value grows exponentially as the number of participants increase. Therefore, Next2 is reaching out to major agricultural organizations and working with a number of NGOs to promote the service to small-scale farmers. The company is discussing a pilot project with a Kenyan social enterprise initiative, Kickstart, and the Sril Group of companies in Nigeria to help farmers in those countries. Meanwhile, more than 500 people are testing the new updated system, preparing it for general release.
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