Recently I had the oppotrunity to go to Liberia and talk to market traders there about the trading and the information access problems they are faced with. I went to daily markets in Buchanan and Morovia — the Red Light, Nancy Doe, Waterside, Ralley Time. Liberian markets are very informal! They seem to be propelled by people’s ingenuity, flexibility, resourcefulness and resilience.
Even widely accepted meaurement scales do not apply there. By this I am not referring to the diferential use of empirial or metric measures. The accepted measurements scales among Liberian traders are units of packaging. These include bags, cartons and buckets at the wholesale level. And cups, LBD 5 sachets and LBD 2 sachets at the retail level. Different vegetables and grains are transported in reused bags from other products. Depending on the commodity those might be 10kg or 50 kg bags. But people generally agree on the conversion of units. For example, the people I spoke to agree that 6 cups of bird eye chilli pepper are equivalent to 1 bag. And that 100-120 cups of rice are equivalent to 1 bag of rice. The cups I saw were mostly reused open cans from other products such as for example an open can of 425g which was previously a can of mackarel being used for the measurement of chilli pepper cups. Can anyone help me with other similar excamples? Is approximately 425g the agreed size? I noticed also that traders might use slightly different sizes of cups and make the appropriate price adjustments relative to the size. Traders told me things like “This cup is LBD 50 and this (another cup which to my eyes looked hardly any different in size) is LBD 60.”
Essentially, all the measurements in Liberia seemed to be eyeballed. That’s why I took so many photos! For me, Liberian markets pose a fascinating and rather perplexing case of measuring without any reference to quantifiable measurements or scales. I expect that there are many similar cases around the world. Are you aware of the problems this might cause when buyers and sellers are trying to comunicate with regards to an exchange? I would love your comments on the matter!