The performance of local markets plays a decisive role in promoting economic growth and reducing poverty in Africa. An important aspect is farmers’ access to markets, which includes the process of finding buyers to the products, finding price information and negotiating prices. Due to constant changes in the market situation, it is particularly important to have up-to-date information on the markets.
Esoko (electronic market in Swahili) is a company specialized in delivering market and extension information to farmers via mobile phones. It operates in Ghana and Kenya and works with parners in eight other African countries. In FoodAfrica work package 6, Esoko has provided the service which impacts are being tested. There are also other service providers operating in the same field both in Ghana and elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Esoko has been providing market information services to farmers in Ghana since early 2000’s. Currently information is provided for 58 commodities in 43 markets in Ghana. The company has more than 30 000 customers who have subscribed to theira service either as with a monthly or an annual contract. The potential for extending mobile services is substantial because 52% of labor force in Ghana (population 25 million, labor force 12.8 million in 2011) is involved in agriculture.
Agents collect market information
Information is provided in different formats. Market information is distributed as SMS messages reported for specific products and markets that to the customer has selected. In addition, it can provide contact information of potential buyers of agricultural products in markets. By contrast, extension information, weather forecast and the call center, where Ghanaian farmers can call and ask for specific advice, are provided in 12 different languages. These include the main languages taught at Ghanaian schools.
– Perquisite for being able to deliver market information is that the data are available. For this Esoko has farmers and other field agents, who collect information and send it to Esoko server 2-3 times a week. The information is quality-checked before disseminating it to farmers who have subscribed to the service, says enumeration manager Francis Danso Adjei from Esoko.
According to Mr. Adjei of all commodities, the price of maize is subscribed to the most frequently. The market information that Esoko is delivering to their customers reports prices at the market. Therefore, the costs of transporting goods to the market need to be taken into account. As market information is numerical, language doesn’t matter as much as it does in the context of extension information.
SMS – compact extension
Esoko has a contents team who developshich experts are developing extension messages. Upon subscription, farmers indicate crops that they cultivate. This information together with local characteristics, such as the agroecological zone where the farm is located, can be taken into account when developing messages.
Extension messages must be simple, practical and compact because there are only 160 characters available to tell the message, including call center information number. An extension message could for instance provide information on how to apply fertilizer or how to store commodities.
If a farmer needs more detailed advice, he or she can call to Esoko’s call center. The center can provide expert information that is tailored to specific farming problems. If the information is not available immediately, the call center makes an effort to find it for instance by consulting scientists or other experts.
Text: Jarkko Niemi, Luke