On 26 Feb 2009 the International Trade Centre (ITC) in Geneva announced the delivery of the project “Trade at Hand for Liberia’s Market Women,” funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. The project is continuation of ITC’s Trade at Hand programme which has been operational since 2006 and focuses on the use of mobile technology for the delivery of agricultural market information.
“Trade at Hand for Liberia’s Market Women” delivers to its end users a service of the participatory type, requiring from end users the contribution of content. The service collects from agricultural producers in rural areas information regarding the availability, location and price sought for different agricultural products. This information is delivered via GPRS to consumers and traders in predominantly urban areas. The market information service deployed by ITC in Liberia is characterised by the Mr Raphael Dard, the manager of the project, as a Liberian national “mobile marketplace” and a seed of a sub-regional one. Trade at Hand facilitates the search process of both, producers and consumers. Using the service buyers and sellers of agricultural products are able to identify an interested party at the opposite side of the market. As a “business matching information service” the Trade at Hand service deployed in Liberia is an innovative within the Trade at Hand framework. Prior Trade at Hand efforts have included the delivery mechanism, rather than the content generation. These include the delivery of international market price information, and the delivery of market alerts to end users in Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Mozambque.
The Trade at Hand poject in Liberia was realised in conjunction with ITC’s Liberia Export Development Project (LEDP). LEDP has developed a network of extension workers and enabled the delivery of comprehensive agricultural extension services within the country. Through its extension network LEDP has encouraged the production of export-oriented agricultural products such as spices (e.g. African bird-eye chilli pepper), coffee and cocoa. This network facilitated the initial deployment of the Trade at Hand mobile market information system in LIberia. During the deployment process extension workers took part in the process of training and subscribing 100 users of the system. These users included market women and rural farmers.
The newly published Feb 2009 issue of ICT Update (47) features is dedicated to the topic of Market Information Systems, recent implementations and trends in their use in developing countries. ICT Update reviews many ICT4D projects targeted at the use of ICTs for the improvement of market access for farmers in developing countries. Some of the initiative featured in the issue include:
National Association of Agricultural Producer Organizations of Côte d’Ivoire (ANOPACI)’s market information system called système d’information sur les marchés (SIM -ANOPACI). SIM -ANOPACI works through a network of village information centres (points d’information villageois, or PIVs) to gather, process and disseminate agricultural information. This includes prices, offers to buy or sell, availability of products and comments on market trends for particular products.
Zambia National Framers’ Union (ZNFU) uses an SMS announcement service in order to inform rural farmers about market prices for their crops.
Malian fruit and vegetable export organization, Fruit et Légumes du Mali (Fruiléma) use of GPS, cameras and computer technology in order to monitor mango harvests and their compliance to international quality standards.
Coopworks, information management system for Kenyan milk cooperative. The systems assists cooperatives in their tracking of daily, weekly and monthly deliveries of milk by any farmers. The system can compile reports based on collection routes, farm location and regions.
Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange (KACE)’s market information and linkage system (MILS). The system provides reliable and timely market information and to link farmers to the markets by finding matches for offers and bids on agricultural goods. The system uses market information points located in rural markets throughout Kenya.
The use of FrontlineSMS for the delivery of market information by FIAGRO (Agricultural Technology Innovation Foundation) in El Slavador, as well as by Mercy Corps in Aceh for their service MarketInfo-SMS.
I was also able to write myself about ITC’s Trade at Hand initiatives. My article Encouraging Foreign Exchange is focused particularly on the pilot of the mCollect system in Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Benin and Ghana.
I shall be useing the newly available ICT Update information about market information system in developing countries in order to inprove the list of ICT4D market projects.
I have been taking a good look at the website of Grameenphone’s CellBazaar in Bangladesh. The CellBazaar initiative is certainly worth some consideration because it is one of the better established mobile marketplaces.
CellBazaar offers multiple channels for checking the listings and for submission. The mobile channels include SMS and WAP. Concurrently, all the sell offers submitted within the last 30 days are available for viewing online.
I have been particularly interested in the CellBazaar tutorials for the viewing of the available offers via mobile technology and for the submission of offers. The tutorials feature the procedures for announcing a sell lead and for checking the sell leads. The procedures (SMS Buy, SMS Sell) involve the sending of 4 text messages in order to sell, and of 5 messages in order to buy. In response, the user of the system receives lists of the available metacathegory, cathegory, sub-cathegory and price range options. The user makes a choice by texting to CellBazaar the number of the selected option.
The buying and selling procedures are less clumsy when the users have WAP trechnology at their disposal. The buying and the selling procedures are explained respectively at WAP Buy and WAP Sell.
Considering the SMS and WAP procedures one fact sticks out. In neither selling procedures (SMS or WAP) is the user required to specify his/her location. In the WAP Buy procedure once a buyer chooses the sub-cathegory of goods he/she is interested in, he/she needs to specify a location and a price range. In the SMS Buy procedure the is required to specify a price range. This all leaves the question open as to how CellBazaar is able to know the location of its users. Is anyone aware of what location technology they are using? If CellBazaar do indeed infer the location of their users without asking them to confirm it, that seems to me a rather poor practice. If it is otherwise, I would very much appreciate hearing about it.
Parts of the Compendium appear highly relevant to the assessment of projects looking to implement the use of mobile technology within the context of marketplaces in developing countries. As far as I am aware many such efforts have followed the Project Goals methodology outlined in Section 2 of the Compendium, meaning that projects have followed a rather straightforward impact assessment involving the measurement of indicators consistent with the project goals.
Having been involved with theoretical Economics for a long time I find myself drawn to Cost-Benefit Analysis and Information Economics as evaluation methodologies for the impact assessment of projects oriented towards the development of technology-based marketplaces. Nonetheless, all of the eleven frameworks elaborated on in the Compendium have their relevance and application. I would be eager to hear your opinions on the matter. Which framework do you favour for the evaluation of implementations of information technology in commodity markets in the developing country context?
This initiative is aimed at highlighting market design issues occurring in the context of efforts targeted at the introduction of ICTs to the benefit of people living in less developed countries.
I hope that academics, NGO activists and technology practitioners will find the material in this blog worthwhile reading. I intend to include sections focusing on academic findings in the area of market design, sections detailing the technology needs and opportunities established in the course of NGO projects, and sections featuring technological developments likely to enable mobile trading.
I am sure that my efforts would not be exhaustive, so please comment, contribute references and resources.