Coming Out (My Esoko Story)

David!I joined Esoko 3 months ago. Before joining the organization, I always saw the building on my way home from school, orange and white, and tall. I thought it was a software development firm; which is not completely far from the truth. Anyways, an opening in the communications department, freshly out of a communications school, an interview and a test later I got the job as a communication officer. Now I read about Esoko before my interview (obviously), so I knew it was not just developing software and collecting data prices but was heavily invested in changing the lives of small holder farmers and helping the growth of the agricultural value chain. It was all so nice in abstract and theory. Working here, I read a lot of success stories, case studies and heard Mark Davies, the CEO and other members of the team talk about the impact we were making. I got it and yet I didn’t get it. It was all like “ok so we are changing the lives of farmers, people can now make intelligent buying and selling decisions”… all nice, but it was on paper and it was people involved in the process who were telling me this. Like you know, blowing their own trumpet and stuff… ah well it sounded nice theoretically.
Three months after joining Esoko, our colleagues from our new office in Kenya came down for a visit to see how Esoko Ghana went about operations and to basically get acquainted with the platform. So as part of their visit, we arranged for Paolo, (MD of the Kenya office) and Clem (the Kenyan Sales Manager) to visit one of our beneficiary farms in Esueshia, in the Central region. When Vani, the head of Client Service told me about the trip and asked if the communications team (Garrett and I) would like to join, I was ecstatic. I was practically like a grade school kid going on his first field trip.

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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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