While the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to limit Last Mile Entrepreneur (LME)’s movements and prohibit ambulant sales of agriculture inputs, NCBA CLUSA’s PROMAC II project, funded by the Government of Norway, has found new and innovative ways to help last mile inputs retailers market their produce.
One good example comes from Rumbidzai Ngonhamo, a Last Mile Entrepreneur from Mozambique’s Manica District. The use of digital marketing via SMS and other communication channels has always been a component of NCBA CLUSA’s technical assistance package. But until recently, the practice was limited to LMEs recording cellphone numbers and, at most, sending text messages with new stock alerts.
The COVID-19 pandemic began to change this. Supported by PROMAC II field staff, a group of dynamic and solution-focused LMEs created WhatsApp marketing groups to more actively engage clients in the marketing process. Rumbidzai’s WhatsApp group has grown to 65 members.
Initially, Rumbidzai saw her WhatsApp group as simply a way to continue informing her clients of her products and prices when face-to-face contact was difficult. But there were more benefits in store. Her group turned out to be solid evidence of PROMAC II’s consumer-based approach to marketing—one that engages clients as co-designers rather than merely consumers. Rumbidzai’s group members don’t feel like they are being marketed “at.” Instead, they are part of a group of like-minded producers. The WhatsApp chat not only provides a central location for Rumbidzai to share information on her products, but also serves as a dynamic platform that enables members to share experiences and best practices, and ask questions.
Since the group includes technical staff from two major inputs companies (Seed Co and CureChem), farmers can engage directly, in real time, with private sector firms and receive specialized technical support regarding agrochemicals. They can share photos of plants and request help in diagnosing and treating pests and diseases, find out where they can buy products, and share direct feedback with firms. As a result of the feedback from Rumbidzai’s WhatsApp group and similar groups, CureChem began producing smaller packs of army worm treatment to meet smallholder farmers’ needs.
As Rumbidzai’s sales increased, she was able to save and purchase a motorbike to facilitate home deliveries of inputs, delivering on credit to her more trustworthy clients. Being in constant contact with her clients in the community, rather than behind the counter in her shop every day, made it easier for her to monitor her clients’ debts and ensure their repayment, so she can, in turn, repay her suppliers.
Last year, PROMAC II helped 40 of the project’s 130 Community Based Service Providers (CBSPs) in Manica to set up similar WhatsApp groups. For some, the smartphone technology has been a challenge, limiting their communication with others who have a smartphones. Still, 26 of the 40 LMEs currently manage active WhatsApp groups, and PROMAC II staff believe that the success of these initial groups will encourage other LMEs to reassess their workflows to incorporate new technologies and adopt innovative marketing approaches.