For smallholder subsistence farmers, one of the greatest barriers to developing their business is a lack of available credit for what is often written off as too risky an investment. For female smallholders, the prejudices are greater still.
Yet bridging this risk-averse preconception can have a transformative effect, not only for the women it affects but for her family and community as well.
The West Africa AgriTrade Network provides information on the latest available prices from selected agricultural markets, buy and sell, news, contacts and other information required for commercial decision-making in all 15 member countries of the Economic Community of West African States.
Farmers can receive all this information via text message on their mobile phones.
For example, the Trade in Hand project provides daily price information for fruit and vegetable exports in Burkina Faso and Mali, while Manobi, a Senegalese telecom company, provides agricultural and fish price updates to subscribers.
Safaricom, the Kenyan mobile phone operator, also provides a text message service for farmers to access updates on commodities in markets direct from the Kenya agricultural commodity exchange. Traders can offer their goods for sale or place bids, as well as post short messages or questions on agricultural matters. Rural-based market information points help to extend the service to those farmers with limited access to mobile phones or computers.
TradeNet, a Ghana-based trading platform allows users to sign up for SMS alerts for commodities and markets of their choice and receive instant alerts for offers to buy or sell as soon as anyone else on the network has submitted an offer on their mobile phone.
Users can also request and receive real-time prices for more than 80 commodities from 400 markets across West Africa.
Individual users can advertise their goods and offers on free Web sites with their own Internet addresses, and farmer and trader groups can set up Web sites to manage all these services for their members.
The Ghana Agricultural Producers and Traders Organization is a major beneficiary. In 2006, it concluded trade deals worth $60,000 with other producer and trader organizations in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Nigeria. These deals involved purchasing tomatoes, onions, and potatoes without middlemen, reducing the transaction costs substantially.