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SMART Coops (Sustainable Management of Agricultural Resources and Trade)

SMART coops is a web platform that allows for data transfer to and from widely used mobile phones among farming and fishery cooperatives in order to: 1) provide information to potential buyers or investors; 2) get product inquiries from buyers; 3) sell products through mobile or online payment; and 4) get updates on market prices.

Market Assessment

The Philippines has 31.42 million people involved in agriculture and fisheries, ranging from small-scale to big, commercial operations, and contributes 13% to a $200B economy. As of December 31, 2011, out of 18,484 cooperatives that hold PhP 158.6B ~ $ 3.7B (1 USD = 43 PhP) in assets, there are 513 cooperatives listed as agricultural producers with an average membership of 60-600 members depending on the region and the products.

The first market segment we would like to address are the farming and fishery cooperatives because they are sophisticated enough to apply for bank loans but may not have the best market practices. They oftentimes use inefficient and unsustainable methods of harvesting their produce and practically give away their goods to brokers and middlemen or in wet markets (open food markets). Eventually, we will target cooperatives involved in trade, distribution of consumer products, artisan crafts, etc.

Even with the help of DTI’s One Town One Product, very few of these cooperatives have a web presence. In this age of constant connectivity, where e-commerce and payment transactions happen at a click of a button, these mini-enterprises are lagging and missing opportunities, such as connecting with philanthropists or investors, because they do not have the technical capabilities to do so. Meanwhile, there are 78M mobile phones in circulation and it is not a stretch to predict that in 3 years a good number of these will be full featured smartphones.

Product/Service

SMART Coops is a link between the web and the mobile phones that are currently in use even outside urban areas and among the poor. The technology will use SMS to send updates from the web to the user’s mobile phone, i.e. the coop member, who may not have time nor the resources to check the information online or via a voice call. In turn, the web platform will be able to receive messages from the user via SMS. Unlike websites such as Alibaba.com and even DTI’s OTOP web portal for small-medium enterprises (SMEs), SMART Coops is more than an online message center; it also has the following components:

  • The wiki. We want to encourage the government and the universities to document in local dialects best practices and spend time with the communities. Specifically, we want to target stay at home women to learn how to use wikis. One example of a successful product that has achieved this is Envaya.org in Africa and E-choupal in India.

  • Mobile payments + e-auction house. We want to integrate GCASH or a similar mobile payment system into SMART Coops, allowing for cashless transactions online and payment verification via mobile technology.

  • Value of all this data. We want to aggregate this data and help the Coops get all the funding they need to grow. The platform could also be eventually used to fill forms to maintain business registry status with the Cooperative Development Authority or to apply for loans from lending institutions such as LandBank.

Sustainability/Profit Model

The sustainability of the program relies on the following factors:

  • Ensuring that the coop members can update the websites on their own
  • Charging a minimal fee for safe and secure transaction processing that is adapted to local infrastructure Brokering donations, loans, and micro-credit to cooperatives
  • Tailoring the product to local culture and dialects
  • Keeping our operating costs very low by hiring student interns, using virtual infrastructures, and deploying free open source software

Implementation

At the moment, we are seeking mentorship from

Phase 1 (Now - June/Summer 2012). We need to identify the key people within the government and private sector that will act as local partners for the project. - Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) - University of the Philippines-Visayas - An existing agricultural/fisheries coop - Local mobile transaction processor such as GCASH

Once the local partners are identified, conduct a feasibility study on the revenue model and costs of implementation independent of software development.

Phase 2 (September/Fall 2012 - March/Spring 2013). Start software development with at least 2 developers. Open source standards to be used are Envaya for content management, and Rapid SMS for the framework to build interactive SMS applications and to be deployed on Amazon EC2 server. At the same time, develop a plan that targets 2 pilot areas for software/mobile deployment. The areas will be selected based on: - Involvement with an existing program under the identified local partners, e.g. DTI, UP-V - Relative proximity to a university - A higher than average use of mobile phones

Phase 3 (August/Summer 2013). Start deployment by teaching the coop members specific formats for the SMS, maintaining a wiki, shipping logistics, and basic accounting procedures. Once the system is in place, begin tests for mobile transaction processing within the platform.

Local Partners

Due to the complexity and potential difficulty of deploying the technology, we recognize the need to develop a partnership with sectors in the government to reach out to local businesses. This partnership can either come in the form of financial support or integration of SMART Coops with existing government programs targeting SMEs in the Philippines.