Agricultural products and the mobile
January 29th, 2007

This Economist.com article says “the technology revolution may be coming to poor countries via the mobile phone, not the personal computer, as it did in rich ones. And just as the internet encouraged an entrepreneurial ethos, and with it the creation of a few too many dotcom firms, Africa’s surge in mobile-phone use may unleash the same sort of business energy, but tailored to local needs. One such initiative is about to begin. TradeNet, a software company based in Accra, Ghana, will unveil a simple sort of eBay for agricultural products across a dozen countries in west Africa. It lets buyers and sellers indicate what they are after and their contact information, which is sent to all relevant subscribers as an SMS text message in one of four languages. Interested parties can then reach others directly to do a deal.
Listing offers is free, as is receiving the texts. TradeNet plans to earn revenue by putting advertisements in the messages, though it hopes the service will become so useful that recipients will eventually want to pay. For the moment, though, the company is busy signing up users and swallowing the cost of sending the messages. Mobile-phone use in sub-Saharan Africa is soaring (see chart). Whereas only 10% of the population had network coverage in 1999, today more than 60% have it, a figure expected to exceed 85% in 2010, according to the GSM Association, an industry trade group. This provides the infrastructure for businesses like TradeNet to function”.

Buy, cell, hold


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