Farmers cut a better deal with their mobile phones

Farmers and customers of Telenor Pakistan and Grameenphone can get SMS alerts on a daily basis to the going rates for agricultural products and can quickly calculate where to get the best prices for their produce through the Agriculture Commodity Trade project (ACT).

Last updated: Jul 2012

The ACT project was initiated by Telenor Group in 2007. A study was conducted to explore mobile phones’ potential to provide farmers with market price information and to enable them to trade their produce and buy the input products required on a daily basis.

“We saw a need for dissemination of agricultural market prices in Pakistan, so, in collaboration with the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), we developed a pilot called Agricultural Commodity Trade (ACT) where we used mobile phones to collect and distribute market prices from day to day. We then identified Bangladesh as an additional market where this service could hit off,” said Ulf Karlsen, Project Manager in Telenor Group.

The pilot project was launched in Pakistan in 2008, while Grameenphone launched a separate six-month pilot project in the North Bengal Region of Bangladesh through Grameenphone’s Community Information Centres in May 2012.  If this pilot is successful, the goal is to launch the service nationwide towards the end of 2012.

Facilitating trade for Pakistani farmers

In May 2011, Telenor Pakistan expanded the ACT project by partnering with a Multan-based company that sells pesticides, fertilizers and seeds to farmers. The idea was to facilitate trade for farmers through Telenor’s easypaisa service by expanding the mobile transactions and information solutions to include wholesalers of farm inputs. This expansion was carried out using the inventory management module of the e-mandi application developed by the ACT project team. The pilot was hailed as a success.The initial pilot in Pakistan was meant to provide wholesale prices of produce to farmers via text message. The trial was conducted in collaboration with Agha Khan Rural Support Programme and the Punjab government. The pilot ran from mid-2009 to February 2011, during which time 4,000 people received text messages with day-to-day market prices from the solution.

Telenor Pakistan is taking ACT to the next level

In 2012, Telenor Pakistan took a significant step forward for the project by partnering with two provincial governments of Pakistan, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, to launch agricultural and livestock information services for farmers in Mardan and Bahawalpur.

The idea is to create an alternate ecosystem for agriculture and livestock in Pakistan, addressing the inefficiencies in the current business model.

As a first step, agricultural and livestock advisories on the best farming practices and market prices have been launched over SMS. The next step will be to set up an interactive voice response (IVR) service for farmers to call in for advice. The third phase will be to set up community centres for farmers. In this exciting phase, for the first time in Pakistan, laptops will be deployed in rural communities and connected through Telenor’s data network. The aim is to use the laptops to educate farmers via audio, images and video. This is aimed at helping to bypass the literacy divide, while also creating a footprint for easypaisa transactions in the farming community. This initiative is currently in a pilot phase and has engaged a farmer base of 3000, which is expected to grow over the course of the pilot. International agencies are involved in the evaluation of this project on social indicators.

“We want to bring the different players in the market onto one platform where they can share information over our GSM network and conduct transactions over our service easypaisa. The end goal is richer, empowered farmers and happier end consumers of agricultural products,” says Tughral Turab Ali, Project Manager ACT and Regional Sales Manager for easypaisa in Telenor Pakistan.

Benefits for farmers and local society

“The commercial launch will take place once we have finalized the concept phase with Aziz Group. The feedback from our customers has been positive – we are meeting their needs and they are willing to pay for the services. By enabling farmers to access market information more easily and empower them with agricultural knowledge, we believe these services will benefit both farmers and the players in the market,” said Ulf Karlsen.