May 22, 2022

Exploring How Digital Technologies Are Used in Natural Resource Management

"In the coming years, as the environmental crisis becomes even more complex and far-reaching, digital technology will play an increasingly critical role in protecting livelihoods and the natural resources on which they depend," according to a report published by the GSMA. Through the GSMA CleanTech program, the UK-based organization conducted research to explore the "digital dividends" of various types of technology on natural resource management in low- and middle-income countries. Through desk research and stakeholder interviews, they captured and documented global trends and examples of best practice; identified the common incentives, bottlenecks and benefits natural resource management (NRM) stakeholders encounter when deploying digital technology; and highlighted opportunities for the GSMA and its members to enhance the reach, scope and effectiveness of NRM programs.

The report explains that "[n]atural resource management (NRM) refers to the sustainable use and management of the planet's natural resources, including forests, watersheds, oceans, air and a diversity of plant and animal species." Furthermore, "These and other resources work together to produce the benefits and services on which human existence depends, such as the provision of food, medicine and timber, the regulation of our climate, the improvement of our water and air quality, and protection from natural hazards."

Below are the report's key findings:
  • Natural resources, livelihoods and poverty are interlinked. "The areas of the world that will be most affected by global changes in climate, biodiversity and ecosystem functions are home to many of the world's poorest communities. This, combined with limited access to and rights over natural resources, is a major contributing factor to poverty, particularly in rural areas. A lack of livelihood opportunities can put unsustainable pressure on local ecosystems by eroding community support for protected areas, instigating unsustainable changes in land use, or incentivizing participation in illegal logging and poaching activities. Conversely, sound NRM practices can have a positive impact on livelihood creation, reward communities for the ecosystem services they provide and drive sustainable agricultural, fishing and land use practices."
  • You can't manage what you don't measure - and analyze. GSMA's "review of 131 NRM projects in LMICs shows that digital technologies are transforming the frequency, reliability and transparency of data collection activities, and improving organizational capacity for data visualization, analytics and evidence-based decision making. Nearly 100 of the NRM projects leverage data collected through satellites, drones or connected devices, and one in five uses artificial intelligence to discover, explore and derive insights from datasets. NRM organizations are highly motivated to work with mobile network operators (MNOs) and other technology organizations to find low-cost connectivity solutions that enable them to transmit data from remote or protected areas."
  • Digital technologies can incentivize community participation in NRM activities and influence the way people perceive, think about and engage with nature. "There is growing recognition that poverty is more than a lack of material necessities and income; it also includes fewer rights and capabilities and less voice and influence over decision making. Although current approaches to NRM often fail to consider the needs and rights of local communities, digital technology—especially mobile—offers new ways to facilitate dialogue between stakeholders, leverage local knowledge and incentivize community participation in NRM activities."
  • MNOs and other technology organizations have a critical role to play. "Although NRM organizations are increasingly tech savvy, many still lack the technical skills and expertise required to keep pace with technological innovations, and are typically overly cautious using donor funds to test 'experimental' digital solutions. The projects in our dataset indicate that when an NRM initiative receives support from an MNO or other technology organization, it is twice as likely to leverage emerging technologies like connected devices, blockchain or artificial intelligence."
  • The GSMA and its members can support ambitious responses to climate challenges. "As the environmental crisis becomes even more complex and far-reaching," the GMSA expects "to see even greater integration between digital technology and NRM activities."

The GSMA importantly notes:
The use of digital technology in NRM, such as mobile devices, satellites, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), is still nascent, but has grown steadily over the last decade. There is increasing evidence that when developed and applied in a customizable and scalable way, digital solutions can significantly improve the efficiency, responsiveness and efficacy of NRM activities. However, current efforts are generally fragmented and poorly documented, making it difficult for stakeholders to learn from best practices, replicate success or identify opportunities for collaboration.

The report, however, points out that "In the coming years, as the environmental crisis becomes even more complex and far-reaching, digital technology will play an increasingly critical role in protecting livelihoods and the natural resources on which they depend." The UK-based organization says that its "analysis of existing projects and conversations with stakeholders suggests there are two impact areas where further support could help mature and mainstream digital innovation in this sector. First, further research and insights are required to reveal and promote examples of best practice, to help technology organizations develop sustainable business and partnership models, and to empower underserved populations to play a more active role in NRM. Second, there is potential for new cross-sector partnerships and dialogue within and across stakeholder groups to catalyze new action."

Lastly, GSMA's "research found that when developed and applied in a customizable and scalable way, digital solutions can enhance the quality and efficiency of data collection, empower local and global communities to be engaged in conservation efforts and aid real-time decision making. It is also clear from the three case studies presented in this report that digital technology can help scale nature-based solutions to climate action in ways that reduce biodiversity loss and optimize nature's contribution to resilient livelihoods."

Which digital technologies do you think will be utilized to facilitate the sustainable use and management of our planet's natural resources?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

May 21, 2022

Report Explores How Political and Economic Developments Will Shape Africa's Mining Sector

"Rich in natural resources, the African continent has attracted a large inflow of investment in recent years," says the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in a report that explores how political and economic developments will shape the future of the mining sector in Africa and their key implications on prospective projects in the region. The report adds that "Although extraction of Africa's reserves has been largely hindered by weak domestic governance structures and policy impediments, the continent is set to remain one of the major supplier of a number of commodities in the coming years."

Focusing on four key themes: (1) the upside and downside of risks caused by elevated commodity prices, (2) how sanctions against Russia will affect mining activities in the region, (3) the effects of exploration activities and prospective project development in the region, and (4) and the future of mining in Africa, the report's key findings include:
  • Sanctions against Russia—which have largely been more severe than initially expected—will disrupt Russian mining activities in Sub‑Saharan Africa, without having a serious negative impact on domestic mining sectors themselves.
  • African economies will face manageable downside risks, which are markedly outweighed by the risks to the upside that stem from steep commodity price growth. This is due mainly to the insignificance of Russian exports for African economies.
  • As sanctions become increasingly severe, the EIU expects that Russian miners will struggle to finance current and prospective operations, and may ultimately be forced to sell their concessions for reduced amounts.
  • Russia's mining activities in Africa have been growing in recent years, and are increasingly concentrated in weakly governed and authoritarian states. We expect this to continue as the West continues to exclude Russia from the global economy.
  • Although higher prices will benefit current production and operations, inflation will disrupt exploration activities and prospective projects. High energy costs, coupled with heightened global risk and uncertainty, will add to the costs of project development.

The EIU explains that "The African continent is home to substantial reserves of copper and cobalt (in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—DRC—Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe), diamonds (in Botswana and Angola), platinum (in South Africa and Zimbabwe), uranium (in Namibia, Niger and South Africa), gold (in Ghana, South Africa and Sudan), iron (in South Africa), manganese (in South Africa, Gabon and Ghana), bauxite (in Guinea), lithium (in Zimbabwe), coal (in South Africa and Mozambique), natural gas (in Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria) and petroleum (in Nigeria, Angola, Algeria and Libya)." Moreover, "Africa contains about 12% of total global oil reserves, 12% of natural gas reserves, more than 80% of platinum group metals and more than 40% of the world's gold. Extraction of Africa's reserves has been largely hindered by weak domestic governance structures and policy impediments, alongside the high risk of investments in Africa and low commodity prices during 2016‑20. This has resulted in a notable shortage of exploration activity in the African mining sector."

The report, however, encouragingly points out that "many African commodity exporters—Zambia and Namibia in particular—have initiated procedures to create a business-friendly environment in order to attract investments into their domestic mining sectors. Elevated commodity prices are fueling an export boom across Africa." What is more, "High prices for copper, oil, iron ore, aluminum and gas will stoke investments and are all helping to reduce external imbalances, stabilize currencies and boost economic growth. However, downside risks abound. The continent depends on energy imports (as net crude exporters have insufficient refinery capacity), and the war in Ukraine is set to stoke strong inflationary pressures."

With respect to the impact of Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on African economies, the EIU notes: "Total African exports to Russia add up to only about US$5bn, with imports totaling about US$14bn. Total trade between the regions is small, at about US$20bn, and trade disruptions resulting from the Russia-Ukraine conflict will not seriously affect African economies. However, it will affect certain African industries, such as cocoa and tobacco, and textiles and clothing." The EIU expects "the clothing industry in Tunisia, in particular, to be hit by negative impact. The tobacco industries in Nigeria, Tanzania and Mozambique will also be affected by the conflict."

Lastly, the EIU is forecasting "that Africa's mining sector traders will not be heavily affected by loss of Russian exports or activity. The total amount of exports to Russia is relatively small, and the growth in commodity prices will outweigh any marginal loss to total exports." The report importantly notes that "alternative export partners, China in particular, will take up the excess output. Given the strong demand for global commodities, the small amount of lost Russian exports will quickly be taken up by alternative buyers. In countries such as Sudan, Mali and the CAR, discrete Russian mining operations are likely to continue, circumventing sanctions."

What political and economic developments do you think will shape Africa's mining sector?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

May 18, 2022

GSMA Report Explores How to Reach and Empower Women in Digital Solutions in the Agriculture Last Mile

"In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the digitization of agricultural value chains is enabling access to markets, assets and services for smallholder farmers," the GSMA says in a report that examines "the limited participation of women in digitized agricultural value chains by identifying the main barriers for women in D4Ag [digital agriculture] initiatives and shedding light on best practices to increase women's participation and empowerment in these value chains."

The report further notes that D4Ag "solutions, such as digital payments and digital procurement, create efficiencies for both agribusinesses and farmers in the last mile. Digital procurement solutions can generate a range of records, including farmers' production data that enable the creation of economic identities and help them access finance. Digital procurement solutions can also be bundled with digital advisory services that provide farmers with vital information on new farming techniques, weather forecasts and crop production."

"Yet," according to the GSMA, "women farmers are being left behind. Although they represent 43 percent of the agricultural labor force, women face social and structural barriers that typically relegate them to traditional, low-value and labor-intensive activities, such as plowing, sowing and harvesting." What is more, "Restrictive social norms, lack of access to resources and the mobile gender gap all make it more challenging for women to participate fully in agricultural value chains and embrace the digital agriculture solutions that can connect them to markets and services and strengthen their decision-making power."

The report identifies the following digital solutions in the agricultural last mile:
  1. Digital profiles: Mobile for authentication and verification, and a tool to create economic identities/digital profiles
  2. Track-and-trace systems, farm management systems: Product verification services, accountability tools
  3. Information services: Agricultural extension, education, certification standards, skills development
  4. Digital financial services: Mobile money-enabled transfers, payments and financial service
  5. IoT applications for agriculture: Equipment logistics, crop, soil and weather monitoring, smart warehousing
  6. Agribusiness analytics: Predictive analytics, precision agriculture

With respect the barriers facing women in digitized agricultural value chains, the report looks at the social norms, lack of access to resources, and mobile gender gap that contribute to these barriers. It also presents steps to increase women's participation in digitized value chains including defining a gender strategy to guide gender-inclusive interventions, creating a gender-inclusive environment through foundational interventions, and addressing women's barriers through gender-inclusive interventions.

The report produces the following conclusions:
  • "Women's low participation in digitized agricultural value chains can only be addressed through approaches that purposely consider women as well as men."
  • "The early impact of gender-inclusive last-mile digital solutions on women farmers' participation and decision-making power is promising." through the efforts of organizations creating digital agriculture solutions that has "increased yields and incomes, as well as increased decision-making power in the household."
  • "A deeper understanding of women's agency and the social norms shaping their lives is needed to bridge the gap in commercial agriculture value chains."
  • "Donors and impact investors are uniquely positioned to push gender inclusive interventions forward. They can inject capital in initiatives that purposely include and target women, and ultimately help to create a level playing field in which women smallholder farmers have equitable access to digital solutions."
  • "Donors and investors should first apply a gender lens to their own investment strategies to identify and reward new D4Ag investees that already apply, and want to test, approaches that reach both women and men."
  • "Donors and investors should also leverage their ongoing investments to encourage investees to adopt best practices, such as consistently collecting and using sex-disaggregated data, or involving women in human-centric design research to inform the design of solutions. Investors can also make investments that strengthen the resilience of women farmers to climate change since they are disproportionately affected as a result of lower input use or weaker safety nets."

Lastly, I support the report's assertion that "By incentivizing and rewarding D4Ag providers, donors and impact investors can guide them towards gender-inclusive approaches that aim to improve women's influence, leadership roles and decision-making power, and promote sensitive and equal gender norms at all levels. Without this, gender inequalities are not only likely to remain, but become exacerbated."

What are your recommendations for increasing women's participation in digitized value chains? Which digital solutions are you creating in the agricultural last mile?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

May 14, 2022

Report Explores Latin America's Outlook Amid the Ukraine War

Those who have experience working in Latin America will appreciate the following statements from a report published by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU): "There is a strong correlation between commodity prices and Latin America's economic growth. Commodity booms, fostered by strong global demand, have been a key driver of economic growth in a region that remains dependent on exports of a small number of basic goods."

Titled The outlook for Latin America amid the Ukraine war: Can the region grow faster? the report importantly explains that growth in Latin American economies has stagnated since the last commodity "supercycle" in 2014. However, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, spiking commodities prices could in theory be the catalyst for faster growth rates in the region.

To help gauge which countries in Latin America are better placed than others to withstand, and even thrive in, the current global environment, the EIU created a heat map (see below) "that assesses the region's performance in seven key areas." The criteria the EIU thinks are most useful include inflation, public debt, public-sector interest payments as percentage of total revenue, the current-account balance, commodity dependence, and its own assessments of political stability risk and legal and regulatory risk.

The report's key findings include:
  • The five countries best placed to take advantage of the current global economic environment this year are Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Chile, and Peru.
  • The commodity price spike that began in 2021 and gained further momentum on the back of the Ukraine crisis will bring some boost to these export-dependent economies.
  • The five countries most vulnerable to the global economic impact of the Ukraine crisis are El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
  • All the above countries have entered into the crisis with relatively high levels of public debt, substantial external imbalances, and high inflation, and none is a major commodity exporter
  • Even for the big commodity exporters, the outlook is not trouble-free. Spiking inflation is adding to the pain of consumers who were hit hard by the pandemic, and driving pressure for increased government support, at a time when governments are under market pressure to narrow fiscal deficits and get a grip on public debt ratios that spiked amid the pandemic

The EIU correctly notes: "The reverberations of the Russia-Ukraine crisis are being felt across the world in commodity markets, financial markets and supply chains. These developments will have important ramifications for Latin America's economy in 2022 and in years to come."

Do you find this report useful in identifying which countries are positioned to take advantage of the current global global economic environment and which are most vulnerable to the global economic impact of the the Ukraine crisis?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

May 1, 2022

How to Improve Women's Use of Mobile Money in Ghana

"In Sub-Saharan Africa, women are 13 percent less likely than men to own a mobile phone; while 75 percent of women own a mobile, 74 million remain unconnected," says a report published by the GSMA. What is more, "In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where people are less likely to have formal bank accounts, mobile money is critical to facilitating widespread financial inclusion. ... While wider coverage and mobile ownership is making mobile money more accessible and relevant in people's everyday lives, a persistent gender gap is leaving women behind."

The GSMA explains that its "report focuses on the mobile money user journey in Ghana, highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on mobile money usage for men and women and the barriers to greater usage, with a specific focus on women entrepreneurs." The report's findings "highlight that beyond the high level numbers, women entrepreneurs lag behind in their awareness and usage of the non-core mobile money services in Ghana, which could add value to their businesses."

Below are the report's key findings:
  1. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of mobile money services among men and women in Ghana.
  2. Mobile money is transitioning from an everyday cash replacement to a true banking alternative, but women entrepreneurs tend to use a narrower range of services than men.
  3. Most male and female mobile money users anticipate that they will use mobile money as often, if not more, in a post-COVID world.
  4. There are opportunities to increase awareness and use of mobile money services beyond payments, particularly among women entrepreneurs.
  5. Women, including entrepreneurs, need more support from others to learn about and use mobile money.
  6. Sustaining mobile money usage among new male and female users who signed up during the COVID-19 pandemic will require overcoming some additional barriers.

The GSMA points out that "Ghana is one of the most mature mobile money markets in the world and, despite having relatively low levels of gender equality, progressive policy and regulatory reforms have improved financial inclusion for men and women since the COVID-19 pandemic." However, as the findings in the report highlight, "that beyond the high level numbers, women entrepreneurs lag behind in their awareness and usage of the non-core mobile money services in Ghana, which could add value to their businesses."

The report importantly adds: "Users who adopted mobile money during the pandemic are less likely than longer term users to be aware of, and use, the full range of services available to them. Since they depend more heavily on agents and family to use their account and are less likely to handle transactions themselves, these users will need additional, on-going support."

To help provide users with on-going support, the report presents the following recommendations:
  1. "As life returns to normal, ensure that men and women who signed up for mobile money during the COVID-19 pandemic have the knowledge and skills they need to continue using it. This group currently lags behind longer term users in terms of knowledge and use of mobile money. As Ghana starts to recover from the pandemic, it is crucial that new users are given clear and accurate information on the benefits of using mobile money longer term. This will help ensure that usage expands and becomes entrenched in day-to-day life, not just during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. "Drive usage by increasing women's awareness of the range of mobile money services available. While there is almost no gender gap in account ownership in Ghana, women use a narrower range of mobile money services than men. It is clear that the experiences of men and women differ. For entrepreneurs, this is especially evident in the awareness of non-core mobile money services. Lower awareness is mirrored by lower usage – increasing knowledge through marketing and other approaches aimed at women and women entrepreneurs is likely to lead to greater uptake of a wider selection of mobile money services.
  3. "Improve women's understanding of mobile money to reduce their reliance on others. Women, including women entrepreneurs, are significantly more likely than men to rely on others when learning to use mobile money. Without concerted efforts to reduce women’s reliance on others, this is likely to limit the way they engage with the service, including the range of services they use and the frequency of usage. More needs to be done to provide training resources to women signing up to mobile money to ensure the information they receive is comprehensive and correct. For example, mobile money providers could incentivize agents to provide hands-on support to women to demonstrate how the service works and improve their confidence in using it. Supporting women to use the full range of mobile money services independently is likely to deliver more substantial benefits to women, and women entrepreneurs in particular, as well as higher revenues for the mobile industry."

What are you recommendations for improving women's use of mobile money in Ghana?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.