Monday, June 11, 2007

An Innovation Worth Noting -

An Internet facility that allows farmers and traders in agricultural commodities in Africa to transact their business through the use of mobile phone Short Message Service (SMS) has been launched in Accra. The facility, known as, is a website developed in Ghana by Busylab with an 11 million-dollar USAID support. It is intended to enhance trans-border trade between farmers and traders in Africa. The USAID support was provided under a three-year market information systems project meant to improve the regional agricultural marketing systems in Africa to help increase intra-regional trade in agricultural products.

The services of are completely free for users, except the normal sms messaging charges by the mobile phone service providers. Mr Mark Davies, the architect of the website, said the service was operating in 12 countries and 300 markets in Africa and in some countries in South America. He said the tradenet facility basically provided a platform for sellers in agricultural business to display their profiles and information on their commodities, prices and locations on the Internet, with the view to attracting potential buyers through the net. He said the facility also offered individuals and traders associations the opportunity to establish their own website within the tradenet platform at not cost to constantly display their commodities and prices.

"Potential buyers looking for a specific commodity only need to compose SMS message on their mobile phones stating the code of the commodity in question and the country from which they want the results and send it to tradenet number 911344' for Areeba users or 024649999 from any other network and get instant results." Mr Davies said traders could also register to receive regular SMS alerts on commodities from markets of their choice.

The tradenet platform comprises both regional and country portals. Regional portals display commodities and prices from a collection of countries from a particular region in Africa and country portals display markets in a particular country. It lists prices of commodities from local markets in various countries. For instance, it has prices of commodities from Nima, Agbobloshie, Techiman and other local markets in Ghana. He assured potential users that the platform was effectively protected from fraud.

Dr Kofi Debrah, Chief Coordinator of the USAID project, said since the introduction of tradenet, various participating buyers and sellers had chalked a trans-border trade value to 350 million dollars. He said the facilities had helped several farmers across Africa to sell their commodities to sellers outside their countries and therefore prevented their commodities from getting rotten on the farms. "This promises to be an effective means for Busumuru Kofi Annan (former UN Secretary-General) to realise his dream for food security and promotion of agricultural business in Africa."

Dr Debrah said the facilities, however, faced a few challenges such as the high level of illiteracy and poverty among farmers and traders in Africa, which made it difficult for them to acquire computers, mobile phones and even be able to use them. He said the project had therefore included training for the literate children of farmers and traders to assist their parents use the facility. Mr Hugh Dake, an official of ECOBANK, assured traders that the bank would provide the necessary funds for them to be able to trade among themselves more efficiently. A cassava farmer from Nigeria gave testimony of how she reached several buyers across the continent through the tradenet platform and recommended it to farmers on the continent.

From Ministry Of Communication Ghana

Will post more information on how tradenet was born in Ghana next.......