tradenet Archives


Food security through shorter value chains

Posted on September 30, 2011  /  1 Comments

We immersed ourselves in agriculture for 3-4 hours yesterday in conversation with visiting colleagues from the University of Alberta, working up a proposal on food security. When asked for a definition of food security, they responded in terms of shorter distances food was transported. I was reminded of the archetypal “bad” food value chain that got much play when there was fire in one of the Swiss road tunnels: potatoes grown in Poland, transported by truck (despite Europe’s vaunted and subsidized railways) to Italy for processing, and then hauled back as French Fries across those same tunnels back to Germany and Poland. It seems common sensical that food that puts on less miles would be better. So what are such value chains in Sri Lanka?
Since 2009, farmers in Sri Lanka, ┬áhave been able to benefit from a new service called Tradenet which provides agricultural market price information through mobile phones. The service is a joint initiative between Sri Lanka’s largest mobile phone operator (Dialog Axiata PLC.) and a not-for-profit called Govi Gnana Seva (GGS). GGS which means “Farmer Knowledge Service” has since 2003, been collecting and dissemination wholesale agricultural produce trade information. An evaluation of this new service by LIRNEasia found that farmers were able to get livelihood benefits by using this system.
LIRNEasia‘s continuing work on the role of ICTs, and in particular mobiles, in improving the livelihoods of the rural poor, was recently published as a chapter in an IDRC publication called “Strengthening┬áRural Livelihoods – the impact of information and communication technologies in Asia.” The chapter titled “Price transparency in agricultural produce markets: Sri Lanka” covered the results from a year long study of the livelihood impacts for farmers from using a mobile-based price information service called Tradenet. The chapter was co-authored by LIRNEasia researchers Sriganesh Lokanathan, Harsha de Silva and Iran Fernando.
LIRNEasia’s Lead Economist Harsha de Silva had a dream. It was that information would reduce price volatility and waste in agricultural markets and that both consumers and producers would benefit from better functioning markets. Unlike Jensen who studied the effects of price information communicated through mobiles on the market for “wild” fish and Akers who studied mobiles’ effect on grain markets (a little more complicated than fish, because the decision to grow or not is now a factor and because transportation costs are not negligible), Harsha picked perhaps the hardest of markets: small-scale production of perishable vegetables and fruits. The studies are ongoing. But we now have the ongoing research being implemented as a commercial service: Sri Lanka’s top celco Dialog Telekom is offering a trading platform based on short message services (SMS) that can help farmers to sell their produce and create a forward market for agriculture produce, officials said.