In African agriculture, information is power

This post originally appeared as part of National Geographic’s Digital Diversity Series.

By Sarah Bartlett, Director of Communications and Research at Esoko

Standing in the heart of his pineapple farm in the Central Region of Ghana, Ali Morrison, gripping two mobile phones, tells the story of his most recent sale. Traders came to him offering just .20 Ghana cedis for each pineapple. That’s about 13 US cents. This time around he and his business partner, Isaac Assan, had their mobiles on hand and did a quick SMS price request to Esoko. He sent in the word “pineapple”. He received a list of prices covering the major markets in Ghana.

In the past farmers like Ali and Isaac have had no choice but to blindly accept the prices offered by traders. But the recent and sudden ability to refer to current prices across the country disrupts that whole dynamic. It gives farmers confidence that they didn’t have before, and it takes away the opportunity for traders to lie about prices in faraway markets. Knowing the trader would resell in the capital city’s market for .80 cedis each, Ali wouldn’t budge until he got .40 cedis. He doubled his profits that week, making 400 Ghana cedis instead of 200. That’s US$165 more. And just for the price of a text message.

It’s only until you hear these stories that you can actually wrap your head around the information deficit in rural areas across Africa. Just think for a moment about the amount of information you have at your fingertips everyday. Now slowly take sources out of the mix. Newspapers, magazines, out. Email? Gone. TV vanishes. Both Internet and smartphones disappear. You’re basically left with your neighbors, the radio, and that simple phone. Now imagine trying to make a sale.

Ali Morrison at work on his pineapple farm in the Central Region of Ghana.

Ali Morrison at work on his pineapple farm in the Central Region of Ghana.

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