Will Google Trader help farmers in Africa?

Nov 14th, 2009 | By | Category: Food for Thought

November 13, 2009

Software and web-search giant Google last week launched the online Google Trader pilot in Uganda to connect sellers and buyers of goods and services, including in agriculture.

Google Trader online is part of the SMS-based services that the company launched in June in Uganda. The service is aimed at bringing together buyers and sellers of products or services in a “marketplace” using their mobile phones.

Rachel Payne, the manager of Google Uganda, said in a post that Google Trader is a marketplace on the Web for people to search for and trade products and services including agricultural products, cars, jobs, services, electronics or real estate.

SMS helping farmers?

The company launched the Google SMS in partnership with GRAMEEN, MTN and BROSDI, with a promise to provide farmers with the relevant information the farmers need to improve farming and thus get out of poverty.

I’m one of the people who expressed initial doubt over the effectiveness of the Google SMS, not just because most Ugandan farmers cannot read or write (if they have the money to get SMS), but because of the absence of really dependable data and information to answer the wide range of farmers’ queries if they send an SMS to Google.

I have always been concerned about the little attention paid to generation of reliable content which new technologies are targeted to provide to users. Google SMS, though initially free is meant to be paid for by users (subsistence farmers). For me, it would be exploitative to ask farmers to pay to access information they need if you cannot reliably provide the information they need (instead giving them what you have).

It is expected that the online Google Trader is a better platform since it is “free” for those who can freely connect to the internet. But few subsistence farmers in Uganda have that free internet access. The fact that there are 49 online posts for agriculture goods and services over the past two months may concern some people .

That is why, while the online Google Trader offers multiple items at once, and enables users to include photos and more detailed information about the products or services they’re selling or interested in buying, it might also fall short of breaking the barriers (unless more comes from their tech kitchen) that have limited their SMS service from being a real mass information service and a significant contributor to development, especially in agriculture.

While Google should be hailed for extending their important services to Uganda and Africa, the company can do better if it finds ways to ensure their technologies benefit the low income people as well. A local farmer who sends an SMS to Google Trader should get real value for the money invested in the SMS, or the time to go to an internet café.

Google can work with like-minded initiatives like Question Box, Grameen, Yo Uganda and other local software developers to deliver this market (Google Trader) to the majority of Ugandan farmers. Question Box, though in its initial stages has shown that most farmers can be reached through technological devices that allows them to ask and get answered through voice, and for free or less cost through question boxes or toll free call centers that collect, package and process information for different farmers from online sources, their database and experts on call.

In addition, Google can think of working with companies that make mobile phones and those providing telecommunication services to enable voice enabled information request and delivery in languages that farmers in a given area most understand. With Google Translator already doing fairly well for the written word, the world will benefit from work on possibilities of translating voice (audio) if we are to effectively communicate with farmers in Africa.

But content generation and proper archiving is a prerequisite. Google can work with organizations engaged in agriculture to document farmers’ contacts, the crops grown, harvest, prices, specific seed or crop buyers and in what market(s) they operate and uptodate market prices. It is then that we can look forward to a day when a small holder farmer or local trader can SMS to Google’s online database or call in and get the information that is relevant to his or her current need.

Links to related articles

Google Trader Gets A Web-Based Companion In Uganda

Google Trader Extends Service to Web Users

You can also read Gerald Businge’s information and communication blog at www.timelyreflection.com

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