After musing on the role of the mobile phone in market creation at the base of the pyramid, I came across this report on a co-operative in Ghana that signed up 200 farmers with Tradenet, an online agricultural market application that includes SMS alerts on the best prices around the country. Like the price of fish, this initiative will certainly influence the growth of a particular market through enhanced information services not to mention empowering the farmers themselves. What’s really interesting is how the last mile problem between Tradenet’s website and the fact that farmers only had access to SMS on mobile phones was solved. Here’s a longish snippet,
But for a group of co-operative farmers working with the Social Enterprise Development Foundation (SEND) in the Northern Region, all that is changing. As part of its innovative Eastern Corridor Agricultural Information Center (ECAMIC) project, SEND Foundation facilitated the acquisition of mobile phones for 200 of the farmers they work with in Salaga, Kpandai and Chamba. Next, SEND signed on as a customer of TradeNet, an agricultural market software developed by an Accra-based company called BusyLab, to provide farmers with accurate and up-to-date crop market information via mobile text messaging (SMS). SEND then registered the farmers on the TradeNet website , and set them up for automatic SMS alerts on prices for relevant crops in markets across Ghana.
As a group on TradeNet, SEND is able to subsidize the cost of the incoming SMS messages for its members. For those without mobile phones, SEND is providing community notice boards so that any farmer with access to the latest market information can make it available for everyone in the co-operative.
With some training, farmers will be able to text-in offers to sell their products, and these offers, together with the farmer’s contact number, are disseminated to other TradeNet subscribers via SMS alerts. They’ll also be able to use a set of codes to compose a text message requesting price information, send it to TradeNet, and receive a response in the form of a text message. In other words, access to timely market information is, for the first time, at their fingertips.
The effect of deploying such information and communication technology to farmers is enormous. Mr. Mohammed Mumuni, the ECAMIC project officer in Tamale, says that “prior to the establishment of the ECAMIC project, the buyer was in control of the vital market information about what they were coming to buy. The intervention of ECAMIC is gradually giving way to the seller also being able to refer the buyer to what they know about the previous day’s price from the various market centers, thereby taking control of pricing decisions. The provision of accurate and timely market information to farmers in the Eastern Corridor has enhanced their negotiations and marketing decisions concerning the sale of their produce.”