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Internet, SMS messaging, computers improve marketing for African farmers

Page history last edited by Rosemary 12 years, 6 months ago

 

When Daniel Annerose first reported on his initiative, Manobi, six years ago there were just over half a million mobile phone customers in his home country of Senegal. Now there are 7 million. On the African continent alone, the use of mobile phones grew by more than 30% in the last year. Delivering market information via mobile phones, and especially using text messages (SMS) is, therefore, as important as it was in 2002. And each new project brings its own innovation.

The Zambia National Framers’ Union, for example, adopted a text messaging scheme used in Kenya and adapted it to suit their own needs and now back it up with a website.  The Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange supports its SMS information system by developing local market resource centres.

In Uganda, a group of dairy farmers used a microfinance loan to buy two mobile phones, complete with a car battery to provide electricity, a solar-panel charger and an antenna to amplify the phone signal enough to reach the distant network. The farmers used the phones to connect with the FoodNet market information service to find buyers and arrange more precise delivery times. They no longer have to travel long distances, risking the milk going sour in the heat. Now each farmer uses a mobile phone to deal directly with buyers and enter new markets by developing more dairy products.

More and more small-scale farmers are expanding into niche and specialist markets. There are now dozens of programmes to help producers meet consumer demands for fair trade, organic, biological and ‘ethically’ grown products. Each programme comes with its own set of guidelines and standards and it can be difficult for a farmer to know which one best suits their type of production. The Sustainable Commodity Initiative now tries to coordinate the information provided by all these international programmes and make it available to farmers interested in joining such a scheme. 

For NGOs working on agricultural projects with rural farmers it is often crucial to get information quickly to a whole group of people often living in very remote areas. Several organizations throughout the world are now using a piece of free software, FrontlineSMS, to send out hundreds, even thousands, of text messages with just a few clicks on the computer. Within minutes they can warn farmers of an emerging disease or pest in the area, send alerts with seed or fertilizer prices or simply organize a meeting or delivery time. The software is adaptable to any organization’s needs and has been used to deliver health, election monitoring and weather details as well as agricultural information.

As farmers increasingly use technology to gather market information and have better contact with buyers, they are able to reduce the number of people involved in bringing their produce to consumers. By making this supply chain shorter and more efficient, the farmers can reinvest the money they save back into their business. They can buy water pumps to irrigate their fields. Or they can send their children to school and university. In fact, the farmers can decide for themselves exactly what they want to do with any extra money the make.

This editorial, entitled Levelling the field, appeared in 

Issue 47: Market information systems, ICTUpdate, a bimonthly printed bulletin, a web magazine, and an accompanying email newsletter, published by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) ACP–EU , Wageningen, the Netherlands. Each issue focuses on a specific theme relevant to ICTs for agricultural and rural development in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, and contains relevant links and projects and a ‘Question and Answer’ section, taken from the website.

The editorial notes that ICT Update first reported on the use of communication technology to bring market information to rural farmers in December 2002, but that the technology, especially mobile phones and the internet, and its availability, has developed so rapidly in recent years that an update was needed.

"The liberalization of agricultural markets in the late 1980s and early 1990s introduced many new challenges for small-scale farmers," the editorial notes. "As the government marketing boards closed, producers were left to deal with a range of middlemen who work much closer with the markets. The middlemen know exactly what is selling, who is buying and at what price. Providing small-scale producers with the same market information would put them in a better position to find the right buyer and negotiate a fair price without having to share their profits with a third party."

The picture also comes from the ICT Update's current issue.

 

 

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