MODISAR – Doing What Botswana Does Best to Build a Business and Create Jobs
By Tigele Mokobi
The International Labour Organization (ILO) states that, unemployment is a scourge that can harm growth not only because it is a waste of resources, but also because it generates redistributive pressures and subsequent distortions, drives people to poverty, constrains liquidity limiting labor mobility, and erodes self-esteem promoting social dislocation, unrest and conflict.
In the current depressed global economic climate the Central Statistics Office (CSO) reports that Botswana’s unemployment rate is hovering around 20% and with a relatively young population, unemployment among the country’s young people is precariously high at 24%. The youth unemployment rate stands as the second highest amongst middle income countries. This situation presents a double whammy for the youth because even in the best of times, the job market was never going to absorb all job seekers, yet even with the best of intentions, not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur.
This however, does not mean we should throw our hands up in despair. We must instead work tirelessly to reduce unemployment and create economic opportunities for all, especially the youth. It is increasingly acknowledged that the creation of employment opportunities for young people is among the major development challenges of the 21st century. Youth unemployment is associated with wasted human potential together with exclusion and entrenched inequality, unsustainability, and in some extreme cases civil and political strife.
Botswana’s economy has historically been agriculture driven until 1965 when diamonds were first discovered and the mineral industry dominated the national economy. At its peak, the mining sector accounted for 80% of the total export of the country’s products and 20% of the entire employment sector. In contrast, agriculture accounts for less than 3% of the GDP but remains the mainstay of the rural economy with 32% of the population residing in rural areas and somehow dependent on crop production and livestock farming.
The United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) states that, “to increase the work opportunities available to young people in Africa, government policy and development programmes tend to highlight agriculture and entrepreneurship as two potential pathways.” It therefore makes logic for Botswana to work on its strength in creating employment opportunities for its citizens.
Agriculture plays a critical role in the socio-cultural and economic lives of Batswana with the livestock subsector, and beef cattle farming in particular, contributing significantly to the country’s agricultural output. 80% of the agriculture output is attributed to livestock production. The principal livestock species are cattle with a population of 2.5 million, small stock comprising goats and sheep with a population of 1.5 million, and poultry with a population of 31 million birds. Around 80% of the national cattle herd is kept on communal land while the remaining 20% is kept in commercial farms.
As the backbone of the rural economy, agriculture is able to absorb large numbers of new job seekers and offer meaningful work with public and private benefits, while a more vibrant entrepreneurial culture, new skills and access to capital can avail young people the opportunity to create their own jobs.
Founding partner of AgriCorporate Limited and Chairman of Innovative Youth Organization, Rearabilwe Ramaphane concurs and laments ‘The unexplored diamond in Botswana’s beef industry.’ He contends that the agriculture sector needs to be, “Reformed, redefined and restructured to meet the undisputable business challenges of climate change and slow world economic growth.” Ramaphane advocates for techno-based and digitised business models to boost productivity, unlock employment opportunities and realize high quality agriculture yields.
For some time now, government has embarked on a drive to facilitate this process of innovation and entrepreneurship to and transform the country’s economy from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy as evidenced by a range of policy pronouncements such as the Human Resource Development Strategy, and the National Research, Science, Technology and Innovation Policy.
In addition entities and programmes such as Botswana Innovation Hub, the Local Enterprise Authority (LEA), Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) and Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES) have been established as part of a comprehensive framework to promote entrepreneurial development and establish an innovation ecosystem that stimulates national competitiveness and economic growth as well as deal with unemployment. The recent Youth Business Expo 2016 also points to national efforts to empower the youth and bridge the unemployment gap.
Inspired by a conducive national innovation ecosystem, the use of technology to improve agriculture yields presented two enterprising young citizens, Thuto Gaotingwe and Tebogo Dichabeng with a bright spark to establish Modisar, a company that produced a farm management desktop application and web on BETA productivity software application that goes by the same name, Modisar. The farm management application allows farmers to record information about the farm, paddocks, costs, sales, farm equipment, animal numbers as well as animal details.
According to Gaotingwe traditional livestock farmers face a myriad of challenges and although some of the traditional farming practices are still viewed as valuable in some areas, lack of access to information together with distorted indigenous knowledge practices often hinder productivity on the farms. “Traditional farmers have very limited access to information and control in livestock breeding which is an important aspect of achieving full production cycle,” he says.
He goes on to say Modisar does not require an active internet connection to function allowing a farmer to work offline and to synchronize data to cloud servers once there is active internet connection. “By synchronizing data, the farmer is able to have a backup copy of data safe on the cloud which can be accessed via Modisar Farm Management Web Application. Currently the app has farm management applications optimized for cattle, goats and sheep, the major livestock in the country,” states Gaotingwe.
In addition Modisar has a free knowledge base that carries farming articles. The articles currently cover different livestock diseases, vaccinations, feeds and best livestock farming practices. Farmers can download important documents and view a “symptoms gallery” where images of disease symptoms are stored allowing farmers in remote areas to identify diseases and initiate remedial action in real time while they wait for veterinary assistance.
Another value add of the Modisar app is a notification system which keeps farmers connected by alerting them through short message system (SMS) and email on important issues such as feeding, vaccinations and care activities. These notifications are communicated in Setswana or English depending on the farmer’s preferred language.
Modisar, the company is a client of the Botswana Innovation Hub’s technology entrepreneurship development programme, First Steps Venture Centre (FSVC). Their application is recognized as an African success story and part of the next generation of business and social impact innovations emerging from the region. The app won the 2014 edition of the Orange Africa Social Venture Prize that attracted over 450 ICT startups and entrepreneurs providing technological solutions in diverse fields.
The pioneering farm management application has done it again this year with the nomination for the 2016 FIELD Africa Enterprise Award. The FIELD Africa Enterprise Award is a product of the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF) which was established in June, 2008 to fund innovation for business in Africa. The Pan-African fund supports innovative and commercially sustainable business ideas that have the potential to positively impact the incomes of rural households and close the unemployment chasm.
The FIELD Africa Enterprise Award aims to improve the way agribusiness and other market systems work by facilitating market entry for rural poor households and businesses by stimulating the development and use of affordable and accessible technologies for the benefit of the rural poor. Modisar’s nomination for this prestigious award is testimony that by focusing on our strengths such as beef cattle farming and introducing techno-based and digitised business models the country can improve its competitiveness, increase yields and close the unemployment gap.