Avoiding Wasting Food and Human Potential with ICTs

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Creative use of information technology in the South is helping to address two very different kinds of waste – of food and of human and community potential.

In Ghana, a mobile phone-driven Internet marketplace is helping to improve efficiencies in farming and selling food. Another initiative is addressing the crisis in India’s villages by drawing on the diaspora of former villagers now living in urban environments around the world.

Finding ways to efficiently trade food is crucial to keeping hunger at bay and meeting the needs of growing populations. In a report earlier this year, the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) found that more than half of the world’s food is wasted or discarded.

“There is evidence … that the world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, at the launch of The Environmental Food Crisis: The Environment’s Role in Averting Future Food Crises.

Ghana is a country that has already gained a reputation as an IT leader in West Africa ( Now a clever technology based in the capital, Accra, is using mobile phones to connect farmers and agricultural businesses and associations to the marketplace. By using SMS ( text messages, information from the field is gathered and collated. This can include tracking what is happening on the farm, how crops are surviving the weather, and the status of food inventories day-by-day. All the data is collected by the TradeNet website and displayed with prices and deadlines for buyers and sellers to get in touch with each other. This reduces the time and cost involved in gathering updates from thousands of people across the country.

Launched in 2007, the service recently won the Information Communication Technology innovations contest by the World Summit Award (WAS) ( of the United Nations’ World Summit on Information Society (WSIS).

TradeNet is currently collating market data from 13 countries and proclaims itself the largest SMS-based market information service on the continent of Africa. It has more than 12,000 registered users and covers 500 individual markets.

The service’s full name is TradeNet: Market Information on your Mobile (, and it tracks products like ground nuts, sesame, tomato, maize and white beans. It offers market information from Afghanistan , Benin , Burkina Faso , Cameroon , Cote d’Ivoire , Ghana , Madagascar , Mali , Mozambique , Nigeria , Sudan and Togo.

Founded by its chief executive officer Mark Davies, TradeNet is run out of the internet start-up incubator Busy Lab ( in Accra. Busy Lab specializes in building mobile web solutions for companies and projects involved in rural media and computing.

While in India, villages are in crisis: As India’s economy has boomed, its small towns and villages have withered. Home to the majority of the country’s population, they are suffering declining populations and high suicide rates. India’s urban slums are where people are going; they are growing 250 percent faster than the country’s population. Yet so many people share some past connection with the country’s 260,000 ailing villages.

And while the world has become a majority urban place, it is acknowledged the future for the environment and agriculture rests in the health of villages.

The social media website Mana Vuru ( seeks to connect people living in cities with the villages they were born in, or where their families came from. It is about restoring the broken connection with the village in order to enhance their future development.

As Mana Vuru declares: “Villages form the backbone of our economy. True progress, growth and prosperity can only be realized when villages become self-sustainable.”

The site points out that “most villages are suffering from crippling infrastructure and some even lack the basic amenities like electricity and fresh water. We believe that every person who migrated to greener pastures and attained success and wealth should feel some sort of moral responsibility and do their bit for their respective villages.”

A project of the Palette School of Multimedia ( in Hyderabad – one of India’s technology hubs – the site lets former village dwellers register and start meeting and connecting with fellow members of the diaspora. Together they can network to help the village address its development challenges.


1) A video story by CNN on Tradenet. Website:

2) BOP Source is a platform for companies and individuals at the BOP (bottom of the pyramid) to directly communicate, ultimately fostering close working relationships, and for NGOs and companies to dialogue and form mutually valuable public-private partnerships that serve the BOP.

3) Afriville is a Web 2.0 service and an African Caribbean social network. Afriville is a community website along the lines of the famous MySpace. Users are free to message and post profiles. The difference is that the user is able to choose how closed or open the networks are. The site features a state of the art music management system which allows African and Caribbean artists to get straight in touch with their fans.

4) Business Action for Africa: Business Action for Africa is an international network of businesses and business organisations from Africa and elsewhere, coming together in support of three objectives: to positively influence policies for growth and poverty reduction, to promote a more balanced view of Africa, and to develop and showcase good business practice in Africa

5) Model Village India: An innovative concept to rejuvenate India’s villages and build economies and self-reliance. Website:

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