Picture this: you are a hard working onion and turnips farmer in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and you feel that you should be selling your farm produce in the most expedient manner.
However, commodity traders and markets are not giving you the best price, and eventual consumers pay through the roof what you sold so cheaply that you feel cheated. What do you do? Forming a cooperative as part of producer protection is one thing you can do but what else? Here’s how poor farmers in Africa have employed ingenuity and innovation.
They have devised an inexpensive and ingenuous way of getting market price information to find out if unscrupulous intermediaries and profiteers fleece them of their hard-farmed commodities – sending out spies to report to their cooperatives in “real time”.
Call it low technology but poor farmers in northern Tanzania in east Africa living in isolated rural communities use mobile phones, e-mail and the Internet to access market information to help boost their incomes in an innovative project supported by the government of Switzerland and their own government.
Market ‘spies’, known locally as “shu shu shu’s“, investigate prices and the details of what is selling at local markets, and use their mobile phones to report back to their villages. Soon they might be able use their phones to access more market information from the internet. The technology is helping farmers to build better and more collaborative market chains from producer to consumer.
A typical working day of a market spy here involves roaming the alleys in the market, chatting with traders, wholesalers and transporters to find out the latest market news. He investigates the selling prices of tomatoes, potatoes, maize, rice and other locally grown crops.
It is important that a shu shu shu gets the information right and that it is really good. But many traders do not want the farmers to know the actual prices they are selling at to safeguard their interests – and profits.
Using his phone, the market spy can quickly call or send text messages to other members of his farmers’ cooperative. He can tell them which traders to sell to, what the market demand is on that day, and how much to ask for their products. His work will help his fellow farmers increase market access, minimize inefficiencies and maximize profits.
Market investigators play a crucial role here. This is part of a seven-year, US$42.3 million program called the First Mile Project, which is supported by the Government of Switzerland and implemented in collaboration with the Government of Tanzania’s Agricultural Marketing Systems Development Programme (AMSDP). Launched in 2005, the project has just entered its second phase where the farmers will be trained on and have access to the Internet to boost their market information service.
The First Mile Project is about how small farmers, traders, processors and others from poor rural areas are able to build market chains linking producers to consumers. They can also share their experiences and good practices as part of farmer-to-farmer interaction and experience.
It shows that given the support they need to try out new ideas and exchange knowledge and experience, poor rural people in less developed areas of the world particularly in Africa can come up with innovative solutions.