When the price is right...
Like many smallholders around the world, these women farmers in rural Gujarat, India, lacked access to market information and disposable cash to pay for the transport of their products to local or nearby markets.
They tended to sell their goods to local traders at whatever price the traders dictated. As a result, they received low returns for their produce, while the traders captured significant profits. Moreover, most of the farmers lacked access to storage facilities. This meant that many of them tended to sell the same agricultural produce simultaneously at harvest time, driving their prices down even further.
In response, the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), a non-governmental organization of poor, self-employed women workers across India, many of whom are rural women farmers, set up a simple market price information system to help rural women get better and fairer prices for their goods.
How it works
Each day, SEWA sends a text message to a few select members in each village, who have been provided with mobile phones. The messages include up-to-date spot and future prices for major cash crops or commodities in three or four of the nearest markets.
The members post the updated prices (in the local language) on a public chalk board that is easily accessible to the community – usually outside a local government office or health center. Another member then uses a mobile phone to take a picture of the updated board and send it to SEWA headquarters in Ahmedabad, where the data is triangulated to verify its accuracy.
With this information the women farmers throughout the village are able to sell their produce at higher – and fairer – market prices individually. In addition, they are able to group together and reach consensus to bulk and transport produce to nearby markets, thereby skipping the middleman, increasing their income, and decreasing risk.
Some of them have even begun using warehouse receipt systems to store crops while they wait for higher prices. These systems allow farmers to deposit their non-perishable cash crop at harvest time. In return, they have the option to obtain a loan against the deposit, or a partial payment (at a share they determine). Otherwise, they can leave the stock in storage until market prices rise, at which point they can sell it. This has reduced the profit margin that traders and middlemen had once made, but greatly increased the income of the women farmers themselves.
In the long term, the women are able to use the future pricing data to better plan their crops and make more informed harvesting decisions.
- FAO. 2013. Ending Poverty: Learning from the Good Practices of Smallholder and Marginal Farmers. Rome.
- Nanavaty, R. 2011. The Value of Information: Mobile Technology Helps Micro-entrepreneurs. Digital Development Debates (available at www.digital-development-debates.org/issue-06-innovation--science-and-technology.html ).