Tag Archives: Africa

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.

Liberian Markets: Part 4

Transportation appears to be a significant obstacle for both buyers and sellers of agricultural produce in Liberia. I have been able to observe producers from the countryside arriving at the wholesale Red Light market in Monrovia as passengers accompanying their loads of produce. At the Red Light producers seek to sell their products to market women, who in turn re-sell the goods to market women acting as retailers. These are the market women selling at markets such as Rally Time, Nancy Doe Jorkpentown, Waterside, Barnardsville and Paynesville.  I was not able to see neither producers, nor market women (wholesalers or retailer) who own their own transportation vehicles. transport

Moving outside ot Monrovia, roads in Liberia serve not only as trade flow arteries, but also as significant market venues. Inhabitants at roadside villages offer for sale charcoal, palm oil, red oil, river fish, bananas, plantain, baskets, wooden furniture (chairs, benches). The flow of traffic thorough roadside villages is seen as constant flow of customers.

Liberian Markets: Part 3

Services are offered at Liberian markets independently, or as adding value to other products.Independent services include services provided by the Liberian Marketing Assoiciation such as schools at the premises and child care. They also include catering services, provided by individual cooks offering food to people visiting the markets as part of their daily routines.

servicesSome market traders are involved in the provision of added value services complementing their main marketable products. Generally, the services appear to be attached to low value products such as cassava dust balls, starch, ground greens, etc. Greens, for example are a fascinating case. They are very perishable, low level products. But the individuals involved in their provision seem to possess considerable entrepreneurship, initiative and resilience. Even though they have modest means, they are able to procure the greens without need for access to credit. In the procurement process they visit multiple farms, monitor the readiness of the greens for harvest, and often exchange current information about the quality of greens available at different farms via mobile phones. As greens are perishable and usually are ready for harvesting every 6 months, the monitoring process is rather demanding. Once they procure the greens, the traders add to the value by grinding the cassava leaf and by cutting the fever leaf. Thus they are able to offer their customers greens in a state suitable for immediate cooking.

FARA Farmer Information Services Inventory

faraFARA (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa) has published a current inventory of innovative farmer advisory services or systems (Innovative Farmer Advisory Systems using ICTs).

The inventory features currently existing projects, or projects in the design phase and intended for implementation in Africa. The reference it provides is extensive and includes projects concerning voice information delivery services, dial-up and reglar radio broadcasts, video learning and e-learning for basic skills and farming. The collection dedicates a whole section on “Extension Services Based on Mobile Phone and Database Monitoring.”  That section covers many of the projects pursuing the implementation of mobile markets in African countries and listed in the section ICT4D Projects.

The FARA farmer information services inventory was created with input from the Regional Agricultural Information and Learning Systems (RAILS) group, the Knowlwdge Management for Development (KM4Dev), the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD), The Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development (CTA), the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and others. The FARA inventory is certainly of considerable value for the mapping of projects aimed at the implementation of mobile markets for agricultural goods. Due to the comprehensive nature of the inventory I will shortly be updating the project descriptions in the section ICT4D Projects.

Mobile Phones in Liberia Part 1

Mobile telephony is widely used in Liberia! Just like in many other places your mobile phone number is the information about you people are interested in knowing immediately after hearing your name.

Mobile telephony has become a major part of the daily life of people in cities, as well as of those of rural dwellers. While the constant occurrence of unforeseen circumstances can be seen as the main reason for the use of mobile phones in cities, in rural areas mobile phones are used mainly because of their communication capabilities. People in the countryside are using mobile phones in order to overcome their geographical removal from close relatives, services (medical, emergency), or events. They use mobile phone to get away from spatial isolation.

I suppose there might be other media used in Liberia for communication in the rural areas. Radio would be a prime candidate. It is a media that can be a very successfully build the social fabric across distances. What is the level of radio provision in rural Liberia? Does anyone know? Because of the devastation in the country during the civil war conflict, fixed line telephony is not a viable substitute to mobile telephony in Liberia. Even though in Monrovia I was able to see a few fixed line telephones, quite unlike mobile phones I was not able to see them in use.

mobile-telephony

Are Women Benefiting from Moble Technology?

There is a tendency to view technology as gender neutral and very little discussion really takes place on the social, gender, cultural and organisational implications of technologies include the mobile phone. Here Kutoma Wakunuma discusses whether women how women are using mobile technology including what are the barriers and social implications…

Dr Kutoma revealed that there is no difference in how men and women use cellular phones and also no difference in the socio-economic potential of mobile usage. She unveiled that mobiles phones decrease isolation among women in society and provide easy and fast communication, especially as the price of mobile phones is becoming cheaper by the day. She added that cellular phones encourage job creation for women who sell airtime and those who run public phone stations. They help in emergencies and danger and have made a major impact in health information as some people access counselling through mobile phones on an anonymous basis.

Video of Dr Kutoma Wakunuma at MobileActive08

Liberian Markets: Part 1

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.”

quantities

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!