By Cynthia Ugochukwu
The idea that technology can be used to solve everyday problems has been tested so many times over the years, and has proven valid.
In 2012, Tingo Mobile founder, Dozy Mmobuosi was on a trip to China when what they were doing with the agricultural value chain, among other things, in Shenzhen caught his attention. His experience birthed the idea of building an agriculture ecosystem for Nigeria and Africa by extension.
Mmobuosi also witnessed how they rolled out relatively cheap smartphones of good quality.
“I knew Nigeria had a big market for such which was what I pursued on getting back from that trip,” he pointed out.
On his return to Nigeria, Mmobuosi reached out to a couple of people within its network, both those in the private and public sectors, to share his propositions with them.
The idea was to have an ecosystem serving every need of people in the agricultural value chain with features like a payment system and an agricultural extension solution using a messaging platform.
Interestingly, farmers and other players currently in the agricultural value chain that are in the Tingo agriculture ecosystem make use of Tingo Messenger for communication among themselves.
The farmers get daily podcasts as well as access to extension services, updates about agricultural inputs, and education in general. These farmers also get access to the market which is pretty much local, within Africa. Tingo has also partnered with other platforms to enable its subscribers to list their farm produce on these other platforms.
At the moment, one of Tingo’s platforms for the agricultural value chain, Nwassa, is processing more than two million daily transactions within the agricultural value chain.
Interestingly, Tingo has worked with a database of over nine million players in Nigeria’s agricultural value chain before launching Nwassa.
At the onset of the project, Mmobuosi affirmed that it wasn’t easy dealing with the Nigerian government and in making the job easier, they tendered their proposition: “We were not asking the government to dole out money to buy phones for Nigerian farmers.”
“For Tingo, the gospel was basically to build an ecosystem for a couple of sectors, like healthcare and transportation, as well as agriculture,” he said.
Tingo would later manufacture the phones while also providing access to credit facilities for Nigerian farmers to purchase these devices which they paid for over a 36-month period. In the first phase of the project, more than nine million Tingo-branded mobile devices were distributed to players in the value chain over a couple of years. And the company is currently working on rolling out another batch of smartphones to Nigerians in its agriculture ecosystem.
The company worked with some microfinance institutes on the project while the government provided certain research-based information from government research institutes about the agriculture landscape over the years.
While Tingo no longer works with the Nigerian government in any capacity, Mmobuosi wants the government to continue to come up with policies that would support the agricultural sector.
Up until 2018, Tingo maintained two assembly plants for their branded smartphones before they were shut down. After this, Tingo started working with its foreign partners in China.
Speaking on why the plants were shut down, Tingo’s founder said, “We had foreign exchange gaps and the cost of running the plants was getting too high. We needed to be smart about it, so we shut them down and continued to work with our partners in China.”
While running its assembly plants, the company had to deal with generating most of the power it used. “It was unnecessary for us to keep running with that. And I remember us running into a very difficult procurement arrangement at our Nigeria office where we had some of our vendors taking advantage of the gaps in our procurement processes,” he pointed out.
Apparently, some procurement officers with Tingo connived with some vendors to inflate invoices and contracts which led to the involvement of law enforcement agencies in Nigeria. Mmobuosi revealed that the company had to stop all instruments like cheques and guarantees that had been issued to vendors at the time. All instruments that had already been issued were also called back to properly investigate and resolve the issue.
Mmobuosi affirmed that in spite of the procurement issue, the company never got to the point where it wasn’t liquid enough to meet its responsibilities.
As the then CEO of the Nigerian business, the founder ended up being the one responsible for sorting out the problem.
“We currently run a more efficient procurement process which is run from our Connecticut office in the United States. It’s a lot more efficient and driven by technology,” he said.
With an efficient procurement process in place, Mmobuosi revealed that coming back to set up an assembly plant in the country would mean that the company needs to provide a cheaper and more sustainable source of energy.
Besides the possibility of running an assembly plant again, Tingo is currently working on closing the acquisition deal of South Africa-based Yekani Manufacturing.
Earlier in the year, Tingo revealed that it had indicated an interest in acquiring a major stake in the company.
On the choice of a South Africa-based company for an acquisition, Mmobuosi believes the country is more stable with respect to power. “At this time, running our assembly plant from South Africa is a lot better, saving us some costs and headaches while also opening up new markets for the company, especially the southern African market,” he concluded.