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Sunday, 6 October, 2002, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Mobiles find right price for farmers
Collecting prices in Senegal, BBC
Logging market prices can be time-consuming
Browsing web pages using a mobile phone may not be very popular in Europe, but it is catching on among canny market traders in Senegal.

The snappily-named Wireless Application Protocol was launched to much fanfare in Europe over two years ago. But has not won many fans, despite the fact that most handsets can use it.

But Senegalese market traders are proving that the technology does have its uses thanks to a project run by Manobi, a joint venture run by French and Senegalese entrepreneurs.

Manobi uses teams to gather information about the prices of foods and goods being sold in the markets in and around Dakar.

Blind luck

Ordinarily farmers have no way of finding out the prices before they travel to the market, or even if their crop is in short supply at a particular place.

A price is living data and is changing very quickly

Daniel Annerose, Manobi
Often middlemen take advantage of this ignorance and offer to buy crops at prices far lower than they would get if they travelled to market themselves.

"A farmer inside the country could call by telephone someone here and ask what are the prices," said one of Manobi's market checkers, "and the guy who answers him will tell him the prices are very low so that he has to sell it at a very low price and will be cheated."

The differences in prices can be significant. One farmer using Manobi's service found that he could get more than twice as much for grapefruit than he was offered by the middle men.

Manobi independently collects prices and uploads them to its central database using mobile phones that dial in to the server via Wap.

Farmer with mobile phone, BBC
Farmers check prices from the field
The price collectors note the price of every item they come across, be it garlic, peanuts, aubergines or any other food.

Farmers in the field can use their mobile phones to check prices before they set off and find out where they will get the best offer for their produce.

"The system improves the transparency of prices inside the market." said Emil Sens, one of the Manobi supervisors.

"We are working in a fresh fruit market so you cannot stock products," he said.

"The prices vary from one day to the other so it's very important for producers to know them."

Growth patterns

Even though Manobi is only being tested, it is already having an effect on the way farmers grow crops.

"For a farmer it is very interesting to note that price is not something stable," Daniel Annerose, head of Manobi.

"A price is living data and is changing very quickly."

Mr Annerose said that although many of the farmers using the system are illiterate, they are familiar with a calculator and treat a phone in the same way.

Many farmers are producing crops for particular markets and will only bring produce to a market where they know they will get a good price. Others are using it to get a better deal from the middlemen who buy their crops to sell on.

Senegalese cabbage, BBC
Farmers choose crops to harvest depending on demand
Up to 70% of Senegal's population lives in rural areas and few of them would have access to phones or market information without Manobi's help.

Currently it has 150 people trialling the system, including farmers, importers who use the information to load their boats with the most profitable goods, and fishermen who get news about weather forecasts.

Now Manobi is talking to professional organisations that represent more than 250,000 people who work in Senegal's agricultural industry.

Prices are kept low and farmers pay for the service as part of a deal between Manobi and the national telephone company.

"It's well adapted to the cash economy," said Mr Annerose, "farmers don't want to have a bill every month."

The digital divide

Escaping poverty

Having a voice

Sharing knowledge

Staying healthy


See also:

10 Jul 02 | Country profiles
20 Aug 02 | Business
23 Jul 02 | Africa
24 May 02 | Africa
28 Nov 00 | UK
05 Sep 00 | Science/Nature
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