The recent publication of An Assessment of Market Information Systems in East Africa by USAID, provides critical reflections on the Market Information Systems (MIS) experience in East Africa. By interviewing practitioners from MIS operations in East Africa, USAID were able to identify recurrent issues in implementation.
The generation of accurate price data for agriculture MIS in Africa, by monitoring transactions micro-data remains some way off into the future. The suggestion to develop MIS trading modules and commodity exchange integration captures the promise of ‘big data’ and remains a way forward. Still, MIS currently have to rely on pricey and inaccurate market survey results for the generation of price content. Enumeration and the implementation of high frequency market price surveys come at a significant cost. Costs are raised further by data processing operations such as data cleaning and aggregation. The generation of MIS content appears not only costly, but also rife with accuracy problems.
Considering the key findings and recommendations of the report, I think most valuable is the advice to MIS operators to promote value-added services such as advertising and the provision of agriculture-related content. Based on my experience in Ghana, I think that advertising for agricultural inputs can be a viable revenue-generation strategy for the delivery of market information services. Other services, such as the provision of agriculture advisory content allowing small-holders to meet the quality requirements of international buyers, also carry promise for the sustainability of MIS. The generation of revenue from end-user payments does not strike me as a feasible strategy and a realistic sustainability model for MIS. The benefits to end users remain unclear and their incentive to invest in receiving price information remains questionable.