News

Text Messages Could Mean Money for African Farmers

New technologies are starting to bring market information to African farmers straight to their cell phones, and these services are improving.  But challenges remain in terms of illiteracy, market reach and expanding cell phone coverage.  VOA's Nico Colombant has more from Dakar on one such product from Accra, Ghana.

How do you bring information from a market in Ghana, like here in Accra, to a text message on a cellular phone?

This type of technology is being fine-tuned by a staff of West Africans and non-Africans working for a company called BusyLab in the Ghanaian capital.

British entrepreneur Mark Davies explains what market information is usually like in Africa.

"These information highways have traditionally been truck routes, transport routes, camel trains through the desert, sort of single corridors of transport, and information sort of just fall off these," he said.

That changes when a user gets information on his mobile phone.

"You can for the very first time in history get essentially real time information to help a farm know today what are the prices of the commodities in the market today," he added.

The idea is to get that information and make it available through text messages when requested. 

Even though his service is only in its first year, Davies can already point to some interesting transactions.

"One of my partners watched somebody in Kaduna, in Nigeria, text in an offer to sell a product that he had, and within 30 minutes he had three telephone calls from traders in Lagos," he said.  "And the deal was done in an hour.  We have people in Rotterdam who are buying shear nuts from Mali.  We have got people in Yemen that are buying organic fertilizer in Nigeria."

Back inside a noisy market in Accra, one happy customer was easy to find.

"I am Dorothy Quaye.  I am 48 years old and a trader for about 18 years.  I deal in vegetables, tomatoes, cabbage, potatoes, etcetera," she said.

She adds that using a cell phone to improve her business came easily.

"Let us say I sell white maize.  So I am in need of white maize.  I just use my mobile phone that I have to send my message through my phone, that I am in need of white maize, then send the message," she explained.  "Then for about five or some seconds I get the reply back from wherever the maize is, and even the price and even who to contact so before I am searching to go and buy the goods, everything is ready for me."

To expand this business model, an economics professor, Edward Kutsoati, says obviously, widespread illiteracy, will be a problem.

"Reading, writing, education is the key, is the bedrock for any economy, to move on from one level to the next," he said.  "In the time being, it would be a constraint to the growth of this particular product.  I have relatives back in the village that I wish I could send them text messages, but they are unable to read, they are unable to text message themselves and that would be a constraint."

But Davies says he has an idea for that problem.

"We are looking to set up traders of information, young people, comfortable with technology, helping farmers sell their produce or buy produce and that is the way we see this dissemination of information early on, through proxies and trade agents as we call them," he explained.

Other problems include a lack of mobile phone coverage in many parts of rural areas.

Kutsoati says the help of the public sector may be needed to improve that situation.

"The potential is there. It is really difficult to assess the risk," he added.  "This is why maybe a public-private venture becomes very critical because it tends to share the risk between the private sector and public sector." 

Other major challenges will be for more farmers to know about the product, and to guarantee the reliability of users.

Economists say turning cell phone beeps into money in the pockets of African farmers could be an economic miracle if it worked on a large scale, but well worth the effort.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs