A system for food security

Pierre Traore

‘Market information systems need to be regularly updated and developed to meet the needs of farmers.’ Pierre Traore, of OMA and RESIMAO.

The liberalisation of agricultural markets in West Africa began in the early 1980s, and led to the development of market information systems (MIS) to support the newly privatised market initiatives. Initially, the MIS simply provided the prices of agricultural goods. But as trade grew between countries in the region, there was a greater demand to include more analysis and business data into the systems. The integration of data from a variety of sources helped give context to the information and promote business opportunities across the region. Communication between traders improved, and economic exchange between countries in the area increased.

These developments led to the development of the West-African Market Information Network (RESIMAO) in Guinea, In April 2010. The project was largely inspired by the experience of OMA (Observatoire du marché agricole) in Mali, which has been particularly active in developing agricultural prospects and business opportunities in West Africa.

RESIMAO already covers 10 of the 16 countries that make up the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and includes Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria. The network collects information from 390 rural and urban markets and 39 related sub-regional markets, with details of grains, vegetables, fish, livestock, inputs and agricultural equipment, tubers and staple food.

However, as information services evolve and compete in the free market, it was clear from the early stages that technology would be needed to computerise and speed up the collection, analysis and dissemination of market information if West African economies were going to compete globally. But the integration of ICTs into market information systems is not easy. Many projects in the past that favoured a purely technological approach have failed because they did not have the support of all stakeholders, or their business models were not financially sustainable.

In light of these experiences, RESIMAO first consulted as many people involved in agricultural markets as possible, in each of the member countries, before developing the system. The project would not be about the technology alone. The system also had to be able to adapt to market realities, and be a valuable addition to existing mechanisms and useful to the businesses and organisations that operated in the various markets. With such broad input the network could meet the needs of users by employing a range of technologies, including GIS, cell phones and radio.

Sustainable management model

The cell phone has been a particularly useful tool for MIS, as it allows the easy distribution of information, while the cost of calls and messages to and from the system provides a means to generate revenue. In this way, MIS providers are able to cover the costs of communication among mobile operators and establish a sustainable business model for the system. In Niger, for example, RESIMAO signed an agreement with cell phone service provider, Orange, to share information on market prices. Similar arrangements have also been made with network providers in other countries.

The network has always stressed the importance of prospective and retrospective analysis to improve the quality of information on prices. To be able to conduct such analysis the MIS must have a critical mass of information, collected over a number of years and covering areas other than price. Data from other information systems and updates on issues such as weather, available stock, and transportation allow analysts to make predictions and decisions that match the socio-economic situation at the time. It is also important that the MIS can provide the means to compare and contrast information from a number of sources.

Price liberalisation will always be a part of free and competitive markets. And price transparency is necessary to protect consumers and give traders the ability to anticipate and take advantage of the best opportunities the market has to offer. RESIMAO, therefore, continues the search for appropriate solutions that will further strengthen West African markets. One practical step would be to ensure the remaining six ECOWAS countries join the network.

In terms of technology, RESIMAO continually reviews the system and looks at ways of using ICTs to improve collaboration between other regional information systems, supporting existing agricultural market analysis, and integrating the sector with other related fields. In the future, RESIMAO hopes to develop partnerships with the private sector to achieve its goals.

Market information systems need to be regularly updated and developed to meet the needs of farmers. They need to maintain financial and administrative autonomy too. Only then can they help to increase the availability and access to food - two important factors in the fight for food security.


Pierre Traore is head of database analysis and communication management at OMA and chair of ICT group at RESIMAO


Related links

Observatoire du Marché Agricole (OMA)

Mali Market Information (PASIDMA)

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

26 August 2011

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