Press releaseReference to reading

April 13, 2007
In January 2007, Wula Nafaa, a USAID Agriculture/Natural Resource Management project, called on Africa’s leading social development enterprise, Manobi, to find an ICT solution for a troublesome agricultural assistance program for Karaya gum growers in Tambacounda, a town in the interior of rural Senegal (West Africa), 9 hours by road from the commercial marketplace. As part of its commitment to wire the rural poor, Manobi invests 50-50 with USAID Ag/NRM in this venture
Karaya gum, locally known as “mbepp”, is consumed in West African cuisine. More importantly, it is exported to USA and the EU for manufacturing cosmetics and pharmacology. Karaya producers are the weakest link in the chain of supply and demand. 10, 000 farmers presently suffer a total absence of access to information and product news. Numerous obstacles prevent their communication with purchasers and foreign manufacturers, problems that also stand in the way of these farmers communicating with each other to establish commercial norms. This lack of communications makes Karaya producers vulnerable to be undersold by intermediaries. Downstream, the absence and distortion of reliable information means that manufacturers cannot project the future price and supply of Karaya gum.
Manobi’s challenge is to enable a core association of 14 Karaya farmer cooperatives in rural Tambacounda to create and manage their own online information system, accessed by mobile telephone. The goals are

  1. Share information and aggregate offers
  2. Consolidate and comply with a dynamic pricing system
  3. Speed up the time to market by providing this information remotely to karaya buyers.
  4. Structure an ongoing interaction with big volume buyers (foreign manufacturers) to create a responsive supply chain that can enfranchise the farmers via financial incentives and make them more reliable.
  5. Make the cooperatives useful. Coop representatives will have PDAs to facilitate their manipulation of supply data and communications with growers in order to fulfil orders.

This project is further proof of the transformational effect on poverty of relevant content and services that can be designed by and for the poor, and accessed via multi-platform electronic media.
Innovations in monitoring and evaluation of the individual farmer’s knowledge, ability, practices and performance allow for a level of project responsiveness heretofore unknown to foreign assistance projects.
The same level of knowledge allows Manobi to use specific Tambacounda performance measurements to develop an economic model that can promise both the sustainability of the program after the initial investment has expired, and provide increasingly sophisticated services to Karaya producers as their marketability improves.
Extend cell phone coverage to the poorest rural areas of West Africa. As cellphone operators experience a significant volume of Internet traffic produced by these 14 associations, an obvious financial incentive will support extending network coverage to the rest of Tambacounda and other poorest rural areas of West Africa.
This is a matching funds project financed jointly by USAID Ag/NRM and Manobi. As such, it serves as a fine example of voluntary, pro bono public-private partnership to mitigate poverty.
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