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The mobile bazaar: connecting farmers to markets

  • Linda Platts
  • Deepa Bachu, a native of Bangalore, spent ten years working for the high-tech firm Intuit in Silicon Valley before she returned to India determined to make a difference. She found a place to put her skills to work in the agricultural markets.

    Roughly 70 percent of India’s economy is tied to agriculture, but small rural farmers did not know how to get the best prices for their produce and were at the mercy of market agents. Lack of information was their biggest problem.

    With the backing of a small Intuit team, Bachu launched a research project that revealed the obstacles in the marketplace and the painful consequences for farmers and their families—ranging from wasted resources, hunger, and even suicide in the most desperate situations.

    Eventually the team settled on an approach that could make major improvements to how agricultural markets work in India. By using a SMS-based mobile phone system (Simple Message System) buyers could send farmers market prices three times a day—morning, mid-day, and evening—with closing prices and a prediction for the next day’s prices. Farmers could sign up for the service at the market or by calling a toll free number. Representatives from the new service would then visit the farmer’s village, collect detailed information on the crop, and soon messages on market prices were on their way to the farmer.

    With this information, farmers could identify which market in their area was offering the best prices and move their perishable goods as quickly as possible to avoid waste. If they encountered lower prices than expected, they could use their SMSdelivered information to leverage a higher price.

    Not only did the farmers benefit from the availability of market prices but so did the agents. Farmers brought produce to those agents offering higher prices, meaning they had more products to sell—up to three times as much produce in a single day than their competition.

    By utilizing technology to provide the most current market information to even the most remote rural areas, Bachu has improved the lives and the futures of many Indian farmers. The same goes for the buying agents, who are equally excited about their future prospects.

    What has come to be called the mobile bazaar has far reaching implications for other parts of the world where 60 to 70 percent of the population and the GDP are based on agriculture.

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