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By Everlyne Nanjala Situma, IFC Communications

West Africa is one of the fastest growing mobile phone markets in the world. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of mobile subscribers in the sub-region doubled, transforming the way people access everything from payments for services to information about prenatal health.

Esoko, a Ghanaian technology firm, is empowering farmers to get better prices for their products—one text message at a time.

Launched in 2005, Esoko provides real-time information about market pricing, as well as three-day weather forecasts and even agricultural tips and techniques—all via text messages. The company serves one million farmers, half of them in Ghana and the rest spread across 19 African countries. Esoko’s network of agents monitor price fluctuations in markets across Africa and feed the information into its database.


Creating Tools for Development

African start-ups like Esoko have a key role to play in creating opportunities for those who need them most. That’s why IFC and the Soros Economic Development Fund each invested $1.25 million in equity in Esoko.

“We, in the venture capital space, need to bet on the future, and what could be better than all these young people creating solutions to solve problems?” says Wale Ayeni, IFC Senior Investment Officer with the Africa Venture Capital team. “I think there’s a huge opportunity for technology to transform and employ and empower youth on the continent.”

Emma Mensah shows some of the data she collected on prices from vendors selling a variety fruits and vegetables for Esoko in the Kasoa Market in Accra, Ghana.

Before Esoko, setting prices for farm produce was a gamble for many rural farmers who didn’t have market information. Middlemen took advantage of the lack of information to encourage farmers to sell at below-market prices.

Esoko also offers match-making services to connect farmers and traders. When in doubt, farmers can dial the company’s call center for advice in their own local language, like Swahili or Twi.

All this information adds up to more informed decisions and better income: A study conducted by researchers from New York University found that farmers using Esoko boosted their profits by 11 percent.

Children dance and play in the village of Essuehyia, Ghana.

“Our vision is to drive empowerment among the African rural population through digital inclusion,” says Daniel Asare-Kyei, Esoko’s chief executive officer. For Asare-Kyei, entrepreneurship and innovation are key to unlocking Africa’s potential.

“Africa cannot succeed without people being adventurous and creating new business for ourselves,” he says, adding that the emphasis should be on building knowledge-based economies. “In the past, it was largely about producing raw materials for export. Now, people are using their intellect to develop new tools for their new communities.”

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Published in December 2018