|Mobile technologies to improve access to market information|
|Friday, 30 July 2010 10:56|
Rural farmers in the Pacific may soon access market information in short text messages using mobile phones if a planned pilot project in Fiji becomes successful.
A meeting of national and regional stakeholders keen to improve access to market data and to establish an efficient market information system (MIS) was recently held at SPC Land Resources Division.
With the financial support of the EU AAACP (All Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Agricultural Commodities Program), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is helping develop an MIS for the Pacific initially focusing on fruits and vegetables, and tree crops. However, participants at a recent regional workshop wanted to broaden the scope to include such information as market prices at key regional markets such as Australia and New Zealand, including prices of inputs, information on weather, road conditions, etc. Lack of capacity is a major challenge to integrating new information into existing systems.
UNCTAD is supportive of establishing a regional information hub based at SPC Land Resources Division. Such an information hub would build on the capacity of regional countries in regional and international trade.
In the meantime UNCTAD will work to improve on the Fiji MIS with major partner the Ministry of Primary Industries through Fiji AgTrade, which is mandated to facilitate trade and commodity development. Fiji MPI have an existing agricultural helpdesk which directly helps farmers with information requests. Plans are in place to have four call centres to bring this assistance closer to the rural areas.
Representative of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Industry said they are already using SMS and e-mail to contact its members especially to inform of imminent extreme weather conditions. The Association would ideally like to do the same with farmers to inform them of their fresh produce needs as demand changes throughout the year. Currently they are working with middlemen as their go-between to buy local produce.
The Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation said they can help source information for the development of a market information system, from Samoa, Vanuatu, and Fiji. They added that it was important to reach out to the middleman with a system to incorporate their role and interests, in the absence of any formal network or association of middlemen.
The forum heard that many farmers are totally dependent on middlemen to market their produce, provide transport for their produce, even providing advice on what crops to grow, and farm inputs. An issue was raised that middlemen might be impartial to an integrated MIS as they would want to keep their exclusive access to market information as their edge to survive as a business.
Fiji Hotel and Tourism Industry are working on different grades for fruits and vegetables and would like to use mobile technology to incorporate this information for dissemination to famers. Fiji have different categories of famers supplying the fresh produce needs of the hotel industry.
A point was raised of the rather disorganized and fragmented production supply chains for most fresh produce. Kokosiga horticultural company said a lot of work needs to be done to re-align supply with demand as the two forces change throughout the year. Coordinating production is important in the supply chain – sourcing planting material, planting methods, farm inputs, etc and farmers need to have good skills in these areas.
Limited capacity of traditional national extension systems is recognized as a challenge to efficient dissemination of market information. Extension work is hampered by a lack of staff and resources to reach sites to collect and disseminate information. Thus, mobile phones could help link extension with farmer to disseminate information on crop pricing, and even information on pests and diseases.
Representatives of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) said trade facilitation is one of its core functions through their private sector development arm, The Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commission (PITIC). PITIC puts buyers in touch with sellers both at the national and international level. PITIC have offices in New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
UNCTAD gave the example of INFOSHARE, an on-line database system which can be accessed and has a wealth of market information. Authorised users can upload market information from any computer with an internet connection. It is quite possible for a mobile phone SMS system to integrate into this system thus allowing the distribution of market information through mobile technology.
UNCTAD will continue consultation to develop a platform to disseminate information via mobile phones, given challenges of collecting market information, and identifying a central location to manage the information system.
Stakeholders agreed that there is a need to develop a better market information system, and that relevant regional and national organisations collaborate to improve on current formats.
SPC is supportive of efforts to use ICTs for sustainable development.