One of the most effective and innovative uses of mobile technology in recent years has been in the delivery of government services.  Yesterday, during the Corporate Council on Africa’s “Leading the Way in U.S.-Africa Investment” program, the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Dr. Akinwumi Adesina detailed how mobile technology has been used to transform the government’s relationship with the country’s farmers.

For four decades, the Nigerian government sought to support its agricultural sector through the procurement and distribution of fertilizer and other inputs to the farmers in the country.  Unfortunately, the government’s reliance on a broken and corrupt system resulted in the siphoning off of billions of dollars and a small percentage of farmers actually receiving the inputs.  Recognizing the need to extricate the middlemen, in 2012, Minister Adesina oversaw the introduction of a first of its kind Electronic Wallet (“e-wallet”) System through which subsidized electronic vouchers for inputs are delivered directly to the farmers’ mobile phones and then the vouchers are used like cash to purchase the inputs directly from agro-dealers.

The e-wallet system, which took only ninety days to implement, has enjoyed rapid adoption across the value chain.  On the demand side, there now are ten million Nigerian farmers with access to the e-wallet system.  On the supply side, there has been a ten-fold increase in the number of fertilizer and seed companies and provision of these inputs has become a one billion dollar industry.  With the successful efforts to eradicate corruption from the subsidy scheme, banks have begun to regard agriculture as a legitimate business and are demonstrating an increased willingness to lend into the agricultural sector.  Ultimately, the e-wallet system beneficially impacts 40 million Nigerians.

Impressed by the success of Nigeria’s e-wallet system, both Uganda and Kenya are collaborating with Nigeria in order to introduce the system into their respective countries and the African Union is encouraging use of the system throughout the rest of the continent.  And, as further evidence of strategic cooperation and mutual assistance amongst South-South nations, Brazil, India, and China also have expressed interest in replicating the system in their own agricultural sectors.