Peep-peep-peep! Alphonse Ndongo receives a text on his mobile phone. He unlocks the handset and checks the message. It reads, “Cocoa and coffee market price update … a kilogram of dried cocoa this month sells at 913 Central African francs [$1.90 US] … a kilogram of dried Arabica coffee sells at 460 francs [96 US cents].”
Cameroon’s cocoa and coffee farmers are struggling with environmental change and global competition. But a new information scheme that uses mobile phone text messaging is helping them cope with the effects of climate change − and find fair prices for their produce.
Mr. Ndongo is a 48-year-old farmer in Ebolowa, in Cameroon’s South region, about 100 kilometres southwest of the capital, Yaoundé. He checks his mobile phone regularly for the latest market prices.
Receiving updated market information and other services by mobile phone is rapidly increasing in Africa, including in Cameroon. Weather updates advise farmers of coming rains. Periodic news dispatches include messages on climate-resistant crop varieties and new marketing standards.
The new mobile phone system for farmers was introduced last year by two coffee and cocoa organizations in Cameroon. The organizations wanted to stabilize cocoa and coffee markets in the country, and help farmers improve the quality and quantity of their product.
In partnership with a mobile phone company, the organizations send text messages to alert farmers to changes in market prices, and deliver news about the changing climate.
Mr. Ndongo and his phone are now inseparable. He says that information is improving farmers’ livelihoods by making new and interesting ideas easily accessible. He checks the market prices for his crops, and says, “This permits me to plan when to harvest and where to sell my crops, and at what price.”
Since June, text messages have alerted farmers to the need to get their cocoa certified. From 2015, no uncertified cocoa will be accepted in the international market, and farmers need to be properly sensitized on this.
The mobile phone information system faces some challenges. Receiving an SMS is free of charge, but farmers must pay when they call back for more information. Persistent power failures can prevent farmers from charging their phones.
Mary Ahonge grows coffee in Ebolowa. She says that farmers are better informed because of the SMS system. She adds, “Agents who used to take advantage of our ignorance … no longer have their way … thanks to the use of telephones.”
Farmers say their telephones are no longer just for making and receiving calls. They are now essential tools. New farming methods and skills, advice about the changing climate, information on disease and disease-resistance, and ideas to boost production and sales are all available through the phone.