In 2005, Tree Aid and Sahel Eco collaborated to address market-access issues confronting Malian farmers through the Mali Shea Tulu project. As Mali is one of the largest countries in Africa, farmers and producers are often located far from commercial centers. This logistical challenge limits producers’ ability to identify buyers for their products and often makes them reliant upon local distributors, who can take a substantial cut from producers’ sales. To address this, Tree Aid and Sahel Eco began to offer a mobile phone service for Shea producers. Ostensibly, producers contact Sahel Eco in Bamako, who then advertise their products over the radio and in local newspapers. Buyers are directed to phone the rural producers directly. This innovative connection allows rural Malian farmers to negotiate directly with buyers and identify the best prices for their goods.
This service an excellent example of how technology can assist in the process of overcoming poverty. By allowing farmers to connect directly with buyers, they are allowed to set terms more favorable terms for their products. At the same time, buyers can identify suppliers in new communities without the added costs of conducting an exploratory expedition. The simplicity of this system makes it easy to replicate in other areas. Applications can be made in any number of sectors where producers struggle to reach markets for their goods. Economists, especially those of the “trade-not aid” school, argue that these types of innovations are what is going to raise the quality of live in the Global South.
Sahel Eco received a grant from The Funding Network for this project. Without charging farmers or buyers for their marketing services, its hard to see how this project could remain feasible in the long-term. A dues paying service or a percentage of sales would address this but each presents its own complications. The notion of connecting farmers with buyers does offer a certain independence but comes with its own insecurities. Buyers often demand quality assurances that may raise prices for both parties. While this project has changed the economic outlook for many farmers, there are gaps that need to be addressed.
The information from this article came from a Nourishing the Planet article by Kim Kido.