This is the 2nd part in a series of posts focused on Esoko.
While many web/software development entities in Africa focus on fancy applications (apps) that have little meaningful impact on their society, a fast-growing software company headquartered in Accra is focused on improving some agricultural processes through creating software for collecting, analysing and sharing data related to agriculture. Esoko Ltd is championing an unusual mix in Africa: agriculture and sophisticated data processing.
The word “Esoko” is derived from the Swahili word “soko” which means “market”. In essence, Esoko is an Electronic Marketplace for exchanging data. Esoko serves as the name of the company as well as the name of the software platform they develop.
Esoko: The Company
Esoko grew from a simple SMS-based service and has evolved into a leading software company that is developing useful apps for clients across Africa with its employee-base of 60 people (as of June 2011).
Esoko was founded in 2005 as TradeNet by Mark Davies, who also founded BusyInternet years ago. TradeNet was rebranded as Esoko in April 2009 and its investors are: Jim Forster, the International Finance Corporation, and the Soros Economic Development Fund.
While Esoko is a privately-held limited liability company that hopes to start making profit in the near future, many of its partners are not-for-profit organisations. Others are agribusinesses, individuals and agric-related projects.
The potential impact of Esoko can be imagined when one considers that agriculture is Ghana’s most important economic sector, employing more than half the population on a formal and informal basis and accounting for almost half of GDP and export earnings. The same trends are found in most African countries, south of the Sahara.
According to Sarah Bartlett (Head of Communications & Research): though Esoko’s apps are generally focused on agriculture, they are applicable to other related uses and there has been an instance of Esoko’s platform being deployed for data distribution in a Ghanaian health project.
Currently, Esoko is active in 15 countries through different partnership agreements; both public sector agricultural projects and Esoko country franchises. The 15 African countries are: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
The recent 3rd Annual Partners’ Conference was well attended by Esoko’s Partners (clients) from various agricultural institutes in Africa. Esoko explained some of its software development processes to its partners, and received feedback from them that would hopefully go towards improving their platform.
Whilst explaining a point during the Tech Showcase at the Conference, Mark Davies said: Esoko is “very different from where it started and will continue to change.” He added that “Esoko organizes the annual conferences to explain their schedule and process to partners and to get ideas and wish lists from them”.
To put Esoko’s future into perspective, I asked Mark Davies:
“Esoko has evolved from a basic SMS platform offering information to a multi-channel platform that gathers and shares data about agriculture in Africa via the web, mobile apps and SMS. Where do you see Esoko in 5 years’ time in terms of growth pattern and product offering?”
Mark Davies responded:
“I’d like to see Esoko as a ubiquitous enabler for commerce and trade throughout Africa, merging information with usable technology — with some fantastic case studies about how information can empower people in the rural/informal sector to make better choices and increase incomes…”