Category Archives: Current Issues

Iranian consumers boycott Nokia for ‘collaboration’

by Saeed Kamali Dehghan
Tuesday 14 July 2009 21.22 BST

The mobile phone company Nokia is being hit by a growing economic boycott in Iran as consumers sympathetic to the post-election protest movement begin targeting a string of companies deemed to be collaborating with the regime.

Wholesale vendors in the capital report that demand for Nokia handsets has fallen by as much as half in the wake of calls to boycott Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) for selling communications monitoring systems to Iran.

There are signs that the boycott is spreading: consumers are shunning SMS messaging in protest at the perceived complicity with the regime by the state telecoms company, TCI. Iran’s state-run broadcaster has been hit by a collapse in advertising as companies fear being blacklisted in a Facebook petition. There is also anecdotal evidence that people are moving money out of state banks and into private banks.

Nokia is the most prominent western company to suffer from its dealings with the Iranian authorities. Its NSN joint venture with Siemens provided Iran with a monitoring system as it expanded a mobile network last year. NSN says the technology is standard issue to dozens of countries, but protesters believe the company could have provided the network without the monitoring function.

Siemens is also accused of providing Iran with an internet filtering system called Webwasher.

“Iranians’ first choice has been Nokia cellphones for several years, partly because Nokia has installed the facility in the country. But in the past weeks, customers’ priority has changed,” said Reza, a mobile phone seller in Tehran’s Big Bazaar.

“Since the news spread that NSN had sold electronic surveillance systems to the Iranian government, people have decided to buy other company’s products although they know that Nokia cellphones function better with network coverage in Iran.”

Some Tehran shops have removed Nokia phones from their window displays. Hashem, another mobile phone vendor, said: “I don’t like to lose my customers and now people don’t feel happy seeing Nokia’s products. We even had customers who wanted to refund their new Nokia cellphones or change them with just another cellphone from any other companies.

“It’s not just a limited case to my shop – I’m also a wholesaler to small shops in provincial markets, and I can say that there is half the demand for Nokia’s product these days in comparison with just one month ago, and it’s really unprecedented. People feel ashamed of having Nokia cellphones,” he added.

News of the boycott has appeared on the front page of Iranian pro-reform papers such as Etemad-e Melli, owned by the reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi. Hadi Heidari, a prominent Iranian cartoonist, has published an image of a Nokia phone on a No Entry traffic sign.

A Nokia spokeswoman refused to comment on the company’s sales in Iran.

The Iranian authorities are believed to have used Nokia’s mobile phone monitoring system to target dissidents. Released prisoners have revealed that the authorities were keeping them in custody on the basis of their SMS and phone calls archive, which was at officials’ disposal.

One Iranian journalist who has just been released from detention said: “I always had this impression that monitoring calls is just a rumour for threatening us from continuing our job properly, but the nightmare became real when they had my phone calls – conversations in my case.

“And the most unbelievable thing for me is that Nokia sold this system to our government. It would be a reasonable excuse for Nokia if they had sold the monitoring technology to a democratic country for controlling child abuse or other uses, but selling it to the Iranian government with a very clear background of human rights violence and suppression of dissent, it’s just inexcusable for me. I’d like to tell Nokia that I’m tortured because they had sold this damn technology to our government.”

NSN spokesman Ben Roome said: “As in every other country, telecoms networks in Iran require the capability to lawfully intercept voice calls. In the last two years, the number of mobile subscribers in Iran has grown from 12 million to over 53 million, so to expand the network in the second half of 2008 we were required to provide the facility to intercept voice calls on this network.”

In other sectors, state-run TV has also been targeted by protesters who have listed products advertised on its channels and urged supporters to join a boycott. Companies are running scared, and viewers have noticed the number of commercials plummet.

“We don’t have many choices to show and continue our protests. They don’t let us go out, they have killed many, we are threatened to text people or distribute emails, they have summoned people who shout Allahu Akbar [‘God is great’] on rooftops at nights, so we need to look for new ways,” said Shahla, a 26-year-old Iranian student.

“I can obviously see on the TV that they are facing an [advertising] crisis. This at least shows them how angry people are,” she added.

The SMS boycott, meanwhile, has apparently forced TCI into drastic price hikes. The cost of an SMS has doubled in recent days. Protesters view the move as a victory.

via Iranian consumers boycott Nokia for ‘collaboration’ | The Guardian.

Buying and Selling on Mobile Phone: Market Women and Farmers Connect for Less

A story found at the Liberianmasthead. Written by Oona Burke, guest columnist; published on 19 June, 2009.

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry in collaboration with Geneva based NGO, International Trade Center has recently completed the test phase of “Trade At Hand”, a cell phone based system that helps connect market women to more competitive prices for the goods they buy. The cell phone based system works similarly to posting goods for sale in a newspaper advertisement or online (Craigslist, etc). Farmers around Liberia are able to advertise their goods for sale (for example, pepper) and market women on the system are then able to check their phones for all the advertisements of pepper for sale from farmers around the country that day. On the system, market women have access to offers organized by products, and are able to exchange reciprocal offers and match each other’s demands for the sale and purchase of goods.

A market woman and farmer work on Trade at Hand
A market woman and farmer work on Trade at Hand

Thus far the test group includes the training of 50 market women across several Monrovia based markets, and 50 farmers in various counties.  Market women on the project are extremely excited about the system and are anxious to expand the number of products available to buy.

Currently the system includes pepper, okra, bitter ball, cassava, plantain, greens, palm oil /nut, and several others. With some market women on the system reporting that they usually spend as much as $35 a month on scratch cards to communicate with sellers of goods, Trade at Hand, allows market women to also reduce their communication costs by viewing a larger number of offers on their telephones, for a price lower than the cost of one telephone call.

Two market women show their excitement in practicing using the system at Ma Kebbeh compound,  Red Light Market
Two market women show their excitement in practicing using the system at Ma Kebbeh compound, Red Light Market

Trade at Hand enables market women to carry out their business in a way that increases their chances of accessing better quality and better priced produce.  In turn, farmers are also enabled to better off-load their produce, and minimize produce wastage. The system also helps market women develop their price intelligence, because they have access to a variety of prices for the same products.

Once the system is tested with the pilot group of market women and farmers, it is hoped that the system can be made available to a larger number of market women and farmers.

Trade at Hand is similar to Cell Bazaar, a telephone based buying and selling system in Bangladesh, that currently has 20 million users.

Talking about Movirtu’s MXShare

On Friday, 23 May Mr. Guy Collender  published through the Guardian, Society an opinion piece considering how mobile technology is benefiting some of the world’s poorest. Left at that, this is not a rare piece of writing to come by these days. But what made the story “Talking about a revolution” conspicuous for me was the fact that it featured Movirtu‘s MXShare — a fascinating technology I came across recently at the Africa Gathering in London.

Katine farmer Dan Ekongu with his mobile phone, which he uses to communicate about agriculture via Talking about a revolution. Photograph: Dan Chung.

I completely agree with Mr. Collender that, “At first glance it is a peculiar and nonsensical idea: owning a mobile phone number, but not a mobile phone.” And even though the immediate benefits of the idea are that it could enable the bottom billion (i.e. the 1 billion people living on less than $2 a day) “to enjoy the benefits associated with a mobile phone number, such as receiving messages and remittances,” I think it could have much wider and far-reaching consequences.

The MXShare concept, installed in the core of a mobile network, enables individuals to share a mobile phone while maintaining separate identities, including a phone number, list of contacts, etc. MXShare makes this possible by creating a virtual mobile system, embedded within an operator’s switching centre.

MXShare’s obvious caveat is that it is not operator agnostic. Many people working in development would consider this an insurmountable drawback, particularly because mobile phone information systems tend to be implemented on a fairly small scale, by NGOs and development organisation, who find it a challenge to get the interest and collaboration of large (read popular) GSM operators.

Although I can see MXShare’s operator dependance as a hindrance to its adoption, I personally am much more intrigued by the possibilities and challenges which the technology concept opens up.

The possibilities stem from the prospect of attaching a fixed identity to mobile phone users. Identifying people is still a challenge in the online world of the Internet but increasingly users of various online services are identified only by their email address and a password. Movitu’s MXShare opens the door to similar solutions to the identification problem in the world of mobiles, a world which is currently hyping about mobile-Web integrated services. Besides allowing people who live on less than $2 a day to receive remittances, the technology can be used as a gateway for the introduction of mobile-Web enabled devices in the developing world. And needless to say, alongside the better devices will come the better services — better m-health, better m-learning, and last but not least, better m-commerce.

For mobile market information services, particularly ones relying on user-generated content, the possibilities offered by identification are considerable. The ability to trace back to its author content of the “classified ad” style, submitted to user-generated content services will increase their appeal. Moreover, it could lead to improvements in the legal framework which would give legitimacy to agreements reached via mobile phone.

Kenya’s Safaricom takes a pasting. Has economic contagion finally reached the booming markets of Africa?

Below I am reprinting a news report by Martyn Warwick , published at TelecomTV | News on 22 May 2009. The report covers thereduction of profits by 23%, announced by Kenya’s and Africa’s biggest mobile operator Safaricom. Alongside with the reduction in profits, the story mentions the significant annual growth in the number of registered users for Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile money transfer service. The number of registered users for M-Pesa increased from 2.1 million to 6.1 million. Both of these news from Safaricom in Kenya indicate the relevance and timeliness of the revenue opportunities offered to African mobile operators by mobile market services.

safaricomlogoMore evidence today that the recession is a truly global phenomenon. While in the developed economies of North America, Europe, Japan and Australasia ARPU has been falling and sales of handsets are in decline, over in the burgeoning markets of Africa, (Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, for example) the mobile industry has continued to roar ahead -until today. Martyn Warwick reports.

But today comes news that, for one carrier at least, the economic downturn has now hit home and profitability is on the wane at Safaricom of Kenya, Africa’s biggest mobile carrier.

Mobile penetration in Africa has roared ahead in recent ayears and some industry observers had opined that companies like Safaricom might continue to grow despite the recession. It seems now that this has more to do with wishful thinking than dispassionate analysis.

Figures released this morning show that Safaricom’s full-year profits slid by 23 per cent – mainly because of the prevailing economic conditions but increased competition and increased costs of servicing debt have also played their part.

For the financial year ended 31 March Safaricom made a profit of 15.3 billion Kenyan Shillings – that’s about £126 million Sterling. For the previous year ended march 31, 2008, the company made 19.9 billion Shillings in profit.

Perhaps more worrying is that although the operator’s total revenues were up 15 per cent year on year, ARPU (globally accepted as being a major indicator of performance) is in serious decline have fallen by a massive 23 per cent to 475 Shillings a month.

Over the past 12 months Kenya has suffered remarkably high inflation as the national currency has weakened and the costs of basic foodstuffs, fuel and transport have rocketed. Kenyan consumers, the vast majority of whom are far from wealthy, have less disposable discretionary income than they did 12 months ago and they are using their phones less.

Confidence was also severely dented by the ethnic violence that followed the results of the disputed 2008 general election and that has had a long-term effect on the economy.

Safaricom has been one of Africa’s great success stories. It is the biggest company in East Africa, is valued at in excess of £1 billion, has 2,300 employees and 13 million subscribers. The company is 40 per cent owned by Vodafone, 25 per cent by both private and institutional investors and 35 per cent owned by the Kenyan state.

It has a market share of 79 per cent and has increased its customer base by 31 per cent over the course of 18 months.

However, the market is changing and Safaricom faces increased competition from a raft of rivals including Essar telecom’s “Yu”, Zain of Kuwait and the Orange network of the incumbent, Telkom Kenya. As a result of this intense competition mobile tariffs have fallen by 40 per cent in just a year.

mpesaCommenting on the results, Safaricom’s CEO, the amiable and approachable Michael Joseph said, “It was probably our most challenging year in terms of operating environment. But it’s not all gloom, we have delivered strong results despite the difficult economic conditions and there has been strong growth in the popular M-Pesa money transfer services, with 6.2 million registered users now compared to the 2.1 million of the previous year.”

The CEO added that Safaricom will continue to invest in its network and will also look to acquisitions to maintain its strategy for consistent growth. Mr. Joseph said, “Our capital expenditure is expected to remain high over the next few years as we continue the roll out of our data infrastructure and continue to invest in the capacity, coverage and quality of our network.”

Meanwhile, Richard Hurst, a senior telecoms analyst at research house IDC commented, “In the past, Safaricom has been quite a solid operator, usually coming up with some decent numbers, so it is a bit of a surprise,” and added that Safaricom will have to spend big money on enhancing and expanding its infrastructure if it is to fend off competition and maintain its Number One position.

Hurst believes though that the overall African telecoms will continue to grow at rates higher than in other markets. He says, “We’ve still got some quite substantial growth to go, it’s [the African market] not as saturated as the European, North American or even Asian markets. I think this is just a blip.”

Let’s hope so. New figures from Nigeria expected to be published in the coming weeks may show whether this is indeed a “blip” confined to one company in one country or if the malaise is spreading across Africa.

Market Data Collection and Location Information via Mobile

From my own observations, namely the list of ICT4D projects, I think it is a fair comment that most of the initiatives are aimed at information delivery, rather than information collection. Many market information systems profess delivering benefits and improving livelihoods by providing access to up-to-date price information. But rarely publicity documents mention how exactly the information is collected, how its accuracy is assured, or how it is put to use. Occassionally, market information systems are backed-up by extensive and robust networks of ennumerators who are experienced in data collection. The cases of TradeNet/ Esoko in Ghana and Trade at Hand’s mCollect project, come to mind. In such cases I can be convinced of the value of the delivered market information content. In other cases I tend to be a bit more sceptical.

Here I have two videos touching on the topic of data collection. In the first video, Mr. Patrick Meier from Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), who writes iRevolution discusses crisis mapping and early warning systems. His work brings together data collection and geo-spatial information. His ideas can be staightforwardly applied to the mapping of stocks and frows of food products. Mr. Meier overviews lessons learned, best practices and current thinking in the emerging field of crisis mapping.

Mr. Meier stresses four main areas of crisis mapping. The first one is crisis map sourcing. The technologies he overviews can easily be applied to market data collection, or in his terms price map sourcing, which would involve the collection of geo-refernced and time-stamped price information. The crowd sourcing methods mentioned in Mr. Meier’s presentation include surveys, focus groups, satellite imagery, participatory GIS, annotated digital maps such as the ones which can be produced via Ushahidi, as well as mobile technologies such as text messaging via FrontlineSMS. Mr. Meier also discusses the accuracy of the crowd-sourced data, he mentions the design principles of data validation and triangulation. Two interesting initiatives which could be adopted in the field of market information monitoring are the Humanitarian Sensor Web, identifying relevant infrastructure; and the Mesh4X automated synchronisation of disperate datasets which makes information sharing seamless.

The second are of interest is crisis data visualisation, including social mapping (i.e. distances on the map represent social perceptions), 3D GIS, pdf-mapping and dynamic maps. The third area is crisis mapping analysis where maps are used as indications of large-scale behavioural patterns over time and space. The fourth area of interest is crowd-feeding, in my understanding the reverse of crowd-sourcing or in other words information delivery services. Mr. Meier mentions response crowd-feeding whereby information is sourced from some in order to be delivered to others who need it the more.
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In the second video Mr. Ian Puttergill, Business Development Manager, Unlimited Potential Group, Microsoft, Soth Africa shares his views on how data can be collected using mobile phones. Firstly, he emphasises the accuracy of the information sources and argues that mobile phone communication is applicable when the accuracy threshold is lower. Mr. Puttergill stresses that a filter is needed for data collection implementations so that irrelevant information can be discarded. He also mentions a loop re-entering information when the format is not correct. Additionally, Mr. Puttergill discusses business models for mobile information services, focusing on socially relevant information as key for finding suitable commercial models, non-profit models, or advertising models.

The videos, the thoughts of Mr. Puttergill and the information provided by Mr. Meier give a lot of food for thought regarding the design of market information services which include rigorous information sourcing methods, allow for mapping of the agricultural product stocks, and are based on sustainable business models. Please get in touch with me if you are interested in discussing the topic further, or comment below.

Mapping Our Future

Here is a video I came across detailing the recent meeting of the CGIAR consortium for spatial information, under the heading “Mapping our future”, carried out on March 31- April 4 2009 in ILRI Nairobi, Kenya.

Video features interviews with Mr. Srikant Vasan from the Gates Foundation, Mr. Todd Slind from CH2M, Mr. Andrew Jarvis from Biodiversity, CIAT, and Mr. Stanley Wood from IFPRI. The main topic discussed is location intelligence and its use for raising incomes and reducing the poverty for smallholder farmers. Mentioned are novel means of delivering geo-spatial information to farmers and constituents in developing countries, including the mobile technology channel, web applications and low tech delivery methods. Interviewees emphasize the current drive to deliver location-based information to farmers, extension workers, agricultural input and output traders, micro-finance institutions. Mr. Stanley Wood mentions presentation by Google Kenya who have created tools to search and navigate through web-based information. He stresses the need for the parallel alignment of the efforts and resources of private technology developers such as Google and research institutions such as IFPRI.

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Mr.Andrew Jarvis summarises the current trend in geo-spatial technology to provide practical solutions to problems identified by social scientists and decision-makers. He mentions that the revolution in the use of mobile technology in Africa happened within 3-4 years, allowing the development of services such as Tradenet in West Africa and envsions a revolution in the use of geo-spatial technology. I personally am certain that location-based information delivered via mobile technology can greatly impact the efficiency of the food supply chain in African countries, thereby benefitting farmers, and facilitating the work of marketers and intermediaries.

See ICT KM Program and AGCommons for detailed information. AGCommons sets out for itself the following goals:

  • GOAL ONE: Discover how geospatial technology can improve farmer productivity and market access

Although 75 percent of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas in developing countries, only 4 percent of total government spending goes to supporting agriculture. Providing greater support for agriculture is a critical means of fighting poverty and hunger, as highlighted by the World Bank in its World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development. The World Bank concluded that investing in agriculture is four times more effective at reducing poverty than investments made elsewhere.

Agriculture can provide a pathway out of poverty, but only if productivity and access to markets increase. Agricultural success in sub-Saharan Africa depends on a farm’s location, in addition to land, soil, natural resources, and climactic conditions. Farmers need access to location-specific (geospatial) information to make better decisions about which crops to plant and when to harvest.

Location-specific (geospatial) information is not consistently produced in ways that are helpful and accessible to local farmers. These farmers, as the best sources of data about local conditions, also have no easy way to contribute to the information-gathering efforts. After soliciting feedback and input from smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and the agricultural aid communities, the AGCommons program will identify, develop, and implement helpful tools to help farmers gain timely information about their specific locations, enabling them to boost their productivity and improve access to markets.

  • GOAL TWO: Engage a community of interest to improve sharing and accessibility for location-specific information

During the first phase of the AGCommons program, we will engage a community of interest by reaching out to those in the agriculture development community—from farmers in the field to ministries of agriculture and aid organizations—to develop and prioritize innovative ideas to leverage geospatial technology. This will be accomplished through a series of community workshops in Africa, Rome, and the United States, followed by a methodical project prioritization process.

This community of interest will help the project team accomplish the following tasks:

· Identify critical gaps in existing geospatial technology
· Enable us to solicit and share potential high-impact solutions
· Select and deploy “quick win” projects in mid-2009 to build on existing work
· Confirm the use and value of geospatial technology services
· Establish ownership for these services
· Align existing geospatial technologies to better serve agriculture development
· Promote a set of best practices to help realize the highest potential value from geospatial investments

Engaging the people and organizations who will most benefit from this program will ensure a focus on providing the solutions most beneficial to the smallholder farmers.

  • GOAL THREE: Deliver high impact solutions that provide value to the “last 10 kilometers”

Although the AGCommons program will have wide-ranging benefits to economies of sub-Saharan countries and the agricultural community at large, the primary focus is on the end users, the smallholder farmers who rely on agriculture for their food and livelihoods. The driving force behind this program is to provide these farmers, many of them women, with easy-to-use, accessible, up-to-the-minute data that can help them make better decisions about how to farm their land, harvest their crops, and bring their harvest to market. The high-impact solutions could end up being databases, cell phone applications, or architecture or networks branching across reams of agricultural data; however, the farmers are the ones who give them meaning and utility. Engaging these farmers in identifying their greatest needs will ensure that we develop the most helpful solutions to improve their daily lives and incomes.

Alternative Food Systems: Urban Agriculture in an Era of Global Warming and Oil Price Shocks

In the last couple of days the issues related to the implementation of alternative food systems have been largely featured in the UK media. The BBC touched on the topic of alternative food systems through its “Cuba and Urban Gardening” edition of Radio 4 – The Food Programme, and its “Urban  Farming Takes Root in Detroit” article pertaining to urban agriculture (BBC NEWS – World – Americas). The interest in the topic has largely been provoked by the Capital Growth initiative of the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, whereby 2,012 new food growing spaces should be established in London by 2012.

“Cuba and Urban Gardening” shares views and commentary on the experience of Cuba in the 1990s when the country entered a “Special Period in Peace Time”. Sacrifices in living standards, insufficient food supplies and a drive towards self-sufficiency in the food sector dominated the period.  Cuban researchers, policy-makers and producers were encouraged to eschew agressive agricultural techniques on the basis of necessity because agrichemical inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers were not attainable at the time.  Additionally, there was very limited access to fossil fuels for the transportation of food produce from the countryside, where it is naturally grown, into  urban areas.  As a result, sprung initiatives promoting urban organic agriculture.  These were aimed at meeting the nutritional needs of urban dwellers through the use of urban spaces for the organic production of foodstuffs.  The program was also aimed at improving the recycling and use of urban waste.

“Urban Farming Takes Root in Detroit” introduces the work of Urban Farming, a Detroit-based charity aimed at reducing inner city hunger through the growth of agricultural produce on unused urban land and the distribution of the produced food among hungry people.  The idea is very simple: turn wasteland into free vegetable gardens and feed the poor people who live nearby.  Motown has lost more than a million residents since its heyday in the 1950s and it is common to see downtown residential streets with just a few houses left standing. Taja Sevelle saw the hundreds of hectares of vacant land in the city and came up with the idea of creating an organic self-help movement that would be “affordable (and) practical”.

Even though, on the surface ot it, the experiences of people in Cuba and Detroit might appear a long way away from the design of mobile marketplaces in developing countries, I am inclined to think otherwise.  In the current age of global warming and oil price shocks the localisation of food production appears to be a public policy imperative on a worldwide scale.

The mobile market design problem for developing countries is inextricably entwined with the problem of improving the food supply chain in developing countries and the problem of creating food supply systems, alternative to the currently dominant industrial food supply chain, in developed countries. Traditionally, aggressive agricultural techniques and drives towards agricultural exports have been regarded as a prime road to development and poverty reduction in many LDCs. In the current global environmental situation, the solutions to both of these problems demand re-thinking.

The Cuban experience can be seen as an inspiration for the efforts of people in industrialised countries to find alternative food systems. It is a story of adaptation to the constraints of a “fuel famine”, assurance of food self-sufficiency and nutrition.  The film The Power of Community: How Cuba survived Peak Oil illustrates that story.  What about developing countries? How would smallholders there be able to improve their livelihoods if/when advanced industrial countries manage to improve their food self-sufficiency?

FEWS NET issues Food Security Alert for West Africa

In the last week I came across the alarming news that the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) has issued a food security alert with regards to West Africa. The alert came on 17 Feb 2009 and it is due to the above-average market prices of local agricultural produce across West Africa.

west-africa-food-security-alert1According to the FEWS NET information, during the 2008/09 growing season West Africa has been fortunate to ascertain above-average harvests in the region, meeting the local consumption demand. The 2008 rainy season has been marked with agreeable regularity and distribution of rains in the Sahelian countries and West Africa. Thereby, the performance of crop production in the region is expected to be more than satisfactory. Nonetheless, price movements in the region, coupled with the presence of the international food crisis have raised a considerable level of alert. Despite the good harvesting season 2008/09, cereal prices in the region have remained at worrying levels.

After the arrival of the new harvest in September 2008, the price of cereals stabilized or declined, except for the price of rice and wheat. In December 2008, the nominal retail price of millet, the main food staple for the majority of the Sahelian population, was 24-48 percent above the five-year average. Prices for cereals and other foodstuffs have largely been rising since January 2009. Similar trends have been observed in maize and rice markets. Markets in the cereal production zones of Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso have already recorded post-harvest price increases between November 2008 and January 2009, whereas these increases were expected between January and March. Post-harvest price increases in line with this trend could lead to moderate, high, or extreme insecurity for populations in West Africa who are net food consumers. Such price movements can be expected to occur by the start of the June-September lean season.

Commentators have speculated that in order to protect national supplies, some surplus countries such as Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mali, and Niger could turn to erecting trade barriers to limit the transfer of cereals to net food importers in the region. FEWS NET and its partners will undertake an assessment mission in February 2009 to analyze markets, stocks, cross-border trade, and food security in the region. In March 2009, results of the mission are expected to explain causes for current prices and to offer recommendations for action.

I will continue monitoring the price dymanics for cereals (particularly sorghum and millet in the region). I have previously reported on the use of mobile phone for price collection in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal (Encouraging foreign exchange: A cross-border initiative to share market information in West Africa). Given the raised relevance of the mobile price collection efforts in West Africa I will be following closely the mCollect project pilot and its possible extensions to Benin and Ghana.