Thursday, May 31, 2012

enhancing market information, really?

Debre Tabor, a typical Ethiopian district town... a main square, some shops selling cloth, food (staple, oil, sugar), soap, some photo printer and some shop selling mobile phones or the newest Teddy Afro CD (with the current hit des yemil seqay that was always on in the car going when I was in the fields) ... 
yes, after asking many people and walking up and down, we manage to find the only stationary shop, and even managed to buy one of the 5 stapler available. Basically, for European standard there is nothing in Debre Tabor.
Suddenly on the main square i see this electronic announcement board, looking like the bus or train departure boards in many European towns... It felt very surreal... nooooooooo this is not possible.

In fact the board announces the Addis market prices of the major agricultural goods in produced in Ethiopia. It is part of enhancing market information to farmers, an initiative discussed at the TED talks in 2007.

Cool idea, real time market information into the Ethiopian bush... Technology really can change how things go in the developing world...
One problem in Ethiopia is truly that farmers do not know the market price of their products. The middle man who buy the agricultural products to bring them to town therefore has the bargaining power and farmers always get very low prices for the products...
But does this surreal electronic board really help the farmers? Debre Tabor is 4 walking hours away from the Zefie watershed, where I did some field work. Very few farmers have indicated that they would go to Debre Tabor, and those who have go there once or twice a year. Most of the farmers have no mobile phones, some of them have a radio. As these farm are not electrified, charging your mobile phone is not possible and listening to radio means that you afforded to buy some batteries. Do these farmers really benefit from this electronic board? or does it just help the middle man to calculate his profit on the way to the farmer?

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