4. Africa: Cell phones help farmers and traders do business more efficiently (Farm Radio Weekly, AfricaNews.com)

| January 21, 2008

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Usu Phoebe Mbasounn is a cassava trader in Nigeria. These days, she trades in the “silent market.” With the touch of a few buttons on her cell phone, Madame Cassava, as she calls herself, checks the market price and puts in her offer. In an instant, the deal is done and the cassava is sold.Madame Cassava conducts her business through a service called Tradenet. Tradenet is one of the new Internet platforms helping farmers save money and get the best price for their crops.

Tradenet allows farmers to post their products and selling price online. Text messages are then sent to people looking to buy the product. Farmers can also receive real-time market price updates on their cell phones.

Akuffo Kofi is a member of the Ghana Agricultural Producers and Traders Organization. It used to cost him time and money to take his harvest to market. But, thanks to Tradenet, he can use his cell phone to find buyers while his crops are still ripening in the fields. Some buyers will even send trucks to Mr. Kofi’s farm to pick up their merchandise.

But Tradenet is not the only service thrusting African agriculture into the virtual world.

In South Africa, 47 sugarcane farmers in the Pongola region are participating in a pilot project that uses a weather station, the Internet, and cell phone technology to help them plan irrigation.

Themba Mthembu is one of the first farmers to use this system. He receives text messages in his mother tongue suggesting when he should start, stop, or continue irrigating his sugar plantations. These alerts could help Mthembu reduce his irrigation costs by up to 300 US dollars, or about 200 Euros, per hectare.

As with Tradenet, the South African farmers participating in the irrigation project also receive text messages updating them on the latest market prices.