African-wide trading platform for mobile phones launched
Ghanaian software firm launches innovative agricultural market information service: enabling producers and traders across Africa to share prices, contacts and offers via their mobile phones.
ACCRA, Ghana - BusyLab, a software research & development business based in Accra Ghana, has spent the last two years developing a suite of tools that will target the agriculture sector across Africa with innovative ways to market goods and services. The service, known as 'TradeNet' allows users to sign-up for SMS alerts for whatever commodities and areas they are interested in. Users can request prices which are provided in realtime on the network from many market enumerators that are active throughout 380 markets spread across the continent. Users can also indicate their areas of business and receive instant SMS alerts for offers to buy or sell as soon as anyone else on the network has submitted an offer via their mobile.
The service has been piloted over the last 12 months in partnership with MISTOWA/IFDC in West Africa, with Foodnet in Uganda, and CGIAR in Honduras and El Salvador. Content managers in all these countries have been trained extensively to use the system and upload market information that is then freely available to the public on the TradeNet website (tradenet.biz) or via their mobile phones. Today, over 540,000 prices have been collected, 386 markets setup, 2,132 users added, 1,934 news stories submitted and over 200 files uploaded for distribution.
The service online allows analysts to plot trends of historical price data comparing markets and commodities. Countries can add international commodity prices, and generate special market reports that can be printed and pasted in local cybercafes and community markets. Individual users can setup their own free website with their own custom internet address to advertise their goods and offers. And farmer and producer groups can setup free websites to manage all these services and content for their members. Powerful integration with mobile operators allows anyone to select target users and publish specific content to thousands of mobiles across the continent. And within the next twelve months, group loan facilities will be built into the platform enabling financial institutions to leverage the TradeNet database and platform to reach the underbanked.
'It's an exciting project' says Mark Davies, the investor behind TradeNet 'we're using local skills to build world class software products.- everyone is excited about the mobile networks acting as a delivery channel for transactions and services. I think this team is the first one to really create a product that people could use.' USAID is in agreement; their West African Regional Mission is funding MISTOWA with US$11million. The goal is to increase intra-regional trade by 20%. 'We're seeing some interesting things happening already' says Dr. Kofi Debrah, IFDC, head of the MISTOWA project. 'Burkinabe onion producers are finding markets in Accra. We even had a middle east trader find an organic fertilizer seller in Nigeria. I really believe that TradeNet can power localized small scale trade as well as stimulate international connections, and that's a must for Africa.'
Indeed with 60% of the workforce engaged in trade & agriculture, and increasingly stringent rules about traceability and accountability, the African agricultural sector must change fast to increase market share of the global economy. 'We want the power of the internet to promote African goods and services and create wealth. We're not naive, but we do believe that the mobile networks offer a new opportunity to get us part of the way'. Says Davies.