Trade goes mobile in Liberia
The International Trade Centre (ITC) and the Angie Brooks International Centre (ABIC) have launched a project in Liberia which allows traders to buy and sell products through their mobile phones. The Trade at Hand (T@H) service was announced by H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, in a ceremony in Lofa County on 24 July 2011, where she was joined by the Ministers of Commerce & Industry, Agriculture, and Youth & Sports.
T@H is a mobile phone-based service, but is similar to other web-based matching sites such as e-Bay or Alibaba, enabling users to post product offers on a centralized database. The buying and selling of products via this technology facilitates trade amongst rural farmers, market women, small traders, restaurateurs and transporters. It was developed specifically for Liberia, with support from the Government of Finland.
‘The originality of Trade at Hand in Liberia is that it is extremely user-friendly,’ said ITC Executive Director, Patricia R. Francis. ‘People who are illiterate can access the system through an interactive voice system on the most basic mobile phones, and buyers and sellers equipped with smart phones or computers can access, read and post offers online. This brings businesses to the next level in trade, taking them beyond face-to-face interactions, providing the kind of access to broader markets that they need in order to grow.’
T@H supports the economic independence of market women and farmers by offering more efficient, time- and money-saving alternative ways of doing business. Currently, farmers wanting to sell their produce must leave their farms to find buyers and, due to poor roads, are often gone for long periods; this long absence sometimes results in produce rotting if no buyers are found. Market women currently engage in stressful and risky methods of purchasing and transporting produce.
President Johnson Sirleaf participated personally in the system launch by offering to buy products from traders in the audience. She thanked ITC and ABIC for realising this project, which was an outcome of the 2009 Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security. She also pledged the continued support of the Government of Liberia.
Counselor Yvette Chesson-Wureh, ABIC Coordinator and Trade at Hand focal point for Liberia, said that the project is expected to serve at least 2,000 users by the beginning of November 2011. The mobile service is currently available in English and six other Liberian languages: Kissi; Bassa; Krahn; Gio; Kpelle; and Mandingo. It will eventually be available in all 16 national languages.
This innovative business-matching service is currently being implemented by ITC in similar ways in Benin and Fiji. Several other countries have also expressed interest to roll-out Trade at Hand for the benefit of communities isolated from the bulk of trade opportunities.