Women Mastering Trade Rules

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Market trading is a vital lifeline for most people in the South. Plenty of delights usually await people in the market, where live animals, herbs and spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, and life’s necessities compete for customers’ money. The formal and informal food sector plays a crucial role in empowering women and providing food to the poor. Women are often those mostly responsible for selling fresh products and street food, and running small catering operations. By being a vendor and getting food at a lower cost, they are able to contribute to their families’ food security.

Trading and selling in the marketplace can be one of the best options for poor women. By trading, women gain economic independence, learn vital business skills and enjoy the social benefits of interacting with others. But the highly individualistic nature of market trading has its downside: traders must do everything themselves and a day not spent at market is a day’s income lost. They also can only buy in small quantities, and usually pay a higher price. Or don’t know what the competitive price is, so are in a weaker bargaining position with wholesalers.

Making market trading more efficient has huge advantages, the primary one being more money for the trader.

Women market traders in Nigeria are improving their efficiency and income with mobile phones. Rural women market traders in the Obiaruku market are using mobile phones to call their suppliers, access information like commodity prices, and contact customers. A survey of the traders found 95 per cent thought mobile phones had a big impact on their business. This has included fewer trips to suppliers, a quicker way to get help when they have been robbed, and opportunities to top-up incomes by selling airtime, handsets or mobile phone accessories.

In Nigeria, mobile phone use has shot up at a rate of 25 per cent a year. A recent study found that out of a population of 140 million, 12.1 million now have mobile phones and 64 million use mobile phones through street-side phone centres. Phones are also helping women market traders to keep tabs on price fluctuations – giving them an advantage when bargaining with crafty – mostly male – suppliers. A weak bargaining position is a common problem: In Ghana, for example, product producers are forced to sell through “market queens” who take advantage of the lack of price transparency and do not always pay producers fairly (De Lardemelle, 1995).

In the Madurai region in southern India, women market traders are using a system called CAM. It allows them to record all their business transactions. CAM uses a Nokia 6600 mobile phone to record daily transactions. This includes small loans, buying livestock, or operating tiny retail businesses. The phone’s camera takes pictures of bookkeeping forms to identify and track all documents. The phone then asks the user to input numbers to the data fields. At the last key, the data is sent via text message to a central server. According to Tapan Parikh, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley School of Information in the United States, the most successful technological solutions work because they include village leaders, customers, NGOs, and others in the design process. “This is the only way to ensure long-term sustainability and benefit,” he said.

In Soweto, South Africa a simple solution to a chronic problem for women market traders has emerged. After seeing hundreds and sometimes thousands of women selling their goods in the marketplace, it became clear they all had one thing in common: they closed on Mondays. They did this because they needed to go to the wholesaler to buy their goods. And they mostly did this by piling into taxis to get there. It hurt the profitability of their businesses in many ways: there was the cost of the taxi, the fact they could only buy small amounts to squeeze in the taxi, a day’s business was lost, and the lack of a discounted, bulk price.

But the solution to this problem is a bright one: the women place a bulk, wholesale order with a go-between who works with a computer out of a former shipping container. He logs the orders into his computer and sends one big order. The wholesaler is happy with the big order, and delivers it and gives him a 15 per cent discount. This is his profit. The women pay the same price as before, but do not have to pay for the taxi and the goods are delivered directly to them. On top of this, the women can stay open on Monday and make more money!

Published: May 2008


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Food Inflation: Ways to Fight It

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Food inflation has taken off at the beginning of 2011. As the global economic crisis enters its next phase, both developed and developing countries are experiencing inflation. There are many factors fuelling the rise in prices – inefficient distribution and storage systems, lack of investment in agriculture, devaluing currencies, high demand, natural and man-made disasters, use of food products like corn to make biofuels – but there are also ways to counter the effects of food inflation that have been tried and tested across the South.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says the least developed countries spent US $9 billion on food imports in 2002. By 2008, that amount had risen to US $23 billion. Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary general of UNCTAD, says “the import dependence has become quite devastating.”

Worse, more people had less money to buy the food. The number of individuals living in extreme poverty “increased by 3 million per year during the boom years of 2002 and 2007,” reaching 421 million people in 2007.

For millions of people, it is a matter of life and death that food remains affordable. The poor pay the largest share of their income on food. Raise that cost, and the poor quickly have little money left for other things, like housing, transport, clothing or education.

Approached as a problem needing a solution, it is possible to deal with a bout of food inflation. Every food crisis has its origins and can be resolved. A staggering amount of food goes to waste every year, and a vast quantity can’t get from the farm to the market in time because of infrastructure problems.

An Indian refrigerator – the ChotuKool fridge ( – is designed to stay cool for hours without electricity and to use half the power of conventional refrigerators. Priced at US $69, it is targeted at India’s poor – a population of over 456 million, almost half the total Indian population (World Bank).

Manufactured by Godrej and Boyce and weighing just 7.8 kilograms, it is designed around the stated needs of the poor, who wanted a fridge capable of cooling 5 to 6 bottles of water and 3 to 4 kilograms of vegetables. Portability was crucial as well, since needs to be moved when large family gatherings take place in small rooms.

As a photo shows (, the fridge looks more like a drinks cooler than the typical large refrigerator. It works by replacing the standard compressor motor found in most fridges with a battery-powered heat exchanger.

In Ghana, a mobile phone-driven Internet marketplace is helping to improve efficiencies in farming and selling food. Esoko (, tracks products including 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.

India’s e-Choupal is making food distribution more efficient in a country experiencing high inflation. E-Choupal ( has developed a reputation for both controlling prices and increasing incomes for poor farmers. Started in 2000 by the major Indian company ITC Limited (, it links farmers to the latest prices for products including soybeans, wheat, coffee and prawns.

E-Choupal works through computers set up in rural areas and has built one of the largest internet initiatives in rural India, reaching 4 million farmers in 40,000 villages.

Brazil, over the last 30 years, has transformed itself from a food importer to one of the world’s major food exporters. It made these impressive achievements with few government subsidies. The agricultural success is down to Embrapa ( – short for Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária, or the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. A public company set up in 1973, it has turned itself into the world’s leading tropical research institution. It breeds new seeds and cattle and has developed innovations from ultra-thin edible wrapping paper for foodstuffs that turns colour when the food goes off to a nano-tech lab creating biodegradable ultra-strong fabrics and wound dressings.

Another approach can be found with a farmer in Kenya, Zack Matere, who boosted his potato crop by turning to Facebook for help. On his farm in Seregeya, Matere used the internet to find a cure for his ailing potato crop.

He uses his mobile phone to access the internet at a costs of about US 0.66 cents a day. One example of the kind of intelligence Matere is able to glean from the internet is reports of cartels deceiving farmers by buying potatoes in over-large 130 kg bags instead of 110 kg bags. Matere takes this information, translates it into Swahili and posts it on community notice boards.

Another fast-growing solution is bringing farming to urban and semi-urban spaces, where the majority of the world’s population now lives.

Urban farmers can take advantage of their close proximity to consumers, keeping costs down and profits up. They can also solve one of agriculture’s enduring problems – where to find water for irrigation by using existing waste water. Waste water is plentiful in urban environments, where factories usually pump out waste water into streams, rivers and lakes.

In Accra, Ghana, more than 200,000 people depend on food grown with wastewater. In Pakistan, a full quarter of the grown vegetables use wastewater.

Family farms are critical to weathering economic crises and ensuring a steady and secure food supply. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) ( called in 2008 for small family farms – which sustain the livelihoods of more than 2 billion people _ to be put at the heart of the global response to high food prices and uncertain food security.

In Brazil, this call is being answered by a bold initiative to create a “social technology,” combining a house-building programme with diverse family farms.

This is where the Brazilian farmer’s cooperative Cooperhaf: Cooperativa de Habitacao dos Agricultores Familiares ( steps in.

“We see the house as the core issue,” said Adriana Paola Paredes Penafiel, a projects adviser with the Cooperhaf. “The farmers can improve their productivity but the starting point is the house.

“Family farming is very important for the country – 70 percent of food for Brazilians comes from family farming,” said Penafiel. “The government wants to keep people in rural areas.”

Making farming more appealing is being shown as a great way to get ahead in modern Africa. One woman hopes more people will be attracted to farming and boost the continent’s food security and reduce costly imports.

Cynthia Mosunmola Umoru’s company, Honeysuckle PTL Ventures (, is based in Lagos, the business capital of Nigeria.

Leading by example, Umoru has set up a successful and modern agribusiness focusing on high-quality food products using modern packaging and fast delivery. She produces meat products, from seafood like shrimps and prawns to snails, beef, chicken, and birds. Her niche is to deliver the product however the customer wishes: fresh, frozen or processed.

Radical new food sources are also another option over time. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has explored insect protein as a contributor to better nutrition, the economics of collecting edible forest insects, methods of harvesting, processing and marketing edible forest insects, and ways of promoting insect eating with snacks, dishes, condiments — even recipes.

The range of insects that can be tapped for food is huge, and includes beetles, ants, bees, crickets, silk worms, moths, termites, larvae, spiders, tarantulas and scorpions. More than 1,400 insect species are eaten in 90 countries in the South. Entrepreneurs in the South are making insects both palatable and marketable – and in turn profitable. These innovations are adding another income source for farmers and the poor, and supplying another weapon to the battle for global food security.


1) The global movement for slow food, which encourages organic production and appreciation of traditional foods and cooking. Website:

2) A video story by CNN on Tradenet/Esoko. Website:

3) Olam: The story of Olam – a global food supply company in ‘agri-products’ that got its start in Nigeria – shows how a Southern brand can grow and go global, and overcome the difficulties of cross-border trade. Website:

4) South African company Eat Your Garden: It provides urban dwellers and food businesses with their own food gardens bursting with juicy and tasty foods whilst at the same time reducing carbon footprints, and creating employment and provide training, helping poverty alleviation. Website:

5) Vertical farming, where hothouses are piled one on top of the other, is an option being promoted as a solution to the food needs of urban dwellers. Website:

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CASE STUDY 6: International Consulting | 1999 – 2014

Expertise: Project evaluation, strategy, project management, project delivery, UN system, MDGs, research papers, media strategies and digital media strategies.

Locations: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Kiev, Ukraine, Pretoria, South Africa, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 2000 to 2006

Consultant: David South

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 6: International Consulting | 1999 – 2014 Images


From 1999, I worked as a consultant for United Nations (UN) missions in Africa, Asia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, for USAID Mongolia and for a UK-based international development consultancy. 


Was the United Nations being effective and reflecting the potential for change in the mobile and information technology age? What needed to change? Who were the policy innovators?

This work included overseeing various digital media projects, including the strategic re-development of the UN Ukraine web portal, aiding in the rolling out of the media campaign for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Mongolia, including the first use of infographics in the Mongolia UN mission, advising on strategies for youth engagement in development goals in South Africa, and support to the UN mission in Turkmenistan as it finalised its United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) with the government and also work with UNICEF there. What I learned during this period proved crucial to the insights and thinking reflected in two highly influential United Nations publications, e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions, and Southern Innovator magazine (developed in 2010). 

This period was particularly advantageous because I had a front-row seat to the unfolding digital and mobile information technology revolution sweeping across the emerging markets and the global South. I also had insight into what worked and didn’t in international development as well as the UN system. I also learned a great deal about development challenges first-hand in highly varied countries, how the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were actually being rolled out, and met amazing people who were challenging existing precepts on how to do development. All of this work proved very useful later on. 

I have either travelled to, or worked and lived, in many countries, enhancing my global perspective and affording me a valuable trove of knowledge that has in turn informed my work in international development. I have always paid attention to the level of development in the country, how it has organized itself, the quality of its design, and how it interacts with other countries for trade and relations. The countries visited to date include: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Canada, China, Cuba, Denmark, Domenica, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guadalupe, Haiti, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Montseratt, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Vatican City. A fascinating mix of countries – some holders of top place on the UN’s Human Development Index – and others where human development is at its worst. Seeing with your own eyes what works and what does not is highly illuminating, while knowing first-hand how human development can be improved is critical for giving informed advice.  


1999/2000: USAID Mongolia (design and publicity strategy for business development brochure, US Mongol (Mongolia) Construct and US tour, work with Riverpath Associates in the UK on communications strategies and the drafting of papers for the American Foundation for AIDS Research, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UNCTAD, Harvard Institute for International Development, and the preparation of the report and launch strategy for the World Bank’s Task Force on Higher Education.

2000: UN Ukraine: strategic re-development of the UN Ukraine web portal and incorporation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

2004: UN Mongolia (media campaign for MDGs) and UN South Africa (evaluation of youth NGO associated with the University of Pretoria and its projects and providing a strategic marketing plan).  

2005: UN Mongolia (media campaign for MDGs) and UN Turkmenistan (finalising its United Nations Development Assistance Framework – UNDAF).

Rukhnama publishers in Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat (2005). Photo: David South
An infographic commissioned for UN Turkmenistan MDGs report (2006).

2006: UN Turkmenistan (work with UNICEF). 


“I highly recommend Mr. David South as a communications consultant who gets results.” Brian DaRin, Representative/Director, USAID Investment & Business Development Project, Global Technology Network/ International Executive Service Corps-Mongolia, 23 September 1999



  • working as a communications consultant for UN missions – Ukraine, South Africa, Mongolia, Turkmenistan
  • redeveloping mission websites, preparing content, reports, advising on communications strategy
  • working with local designers on new ways to present development data through inforgraphics (2005/2006) 


  • in the course of travel and work, seeing the unfolding impact of the global communications revolution, in particular the rapid roll-out and take-up of mobile technologies, and the urgent need for the UN system to take this on board. Also witnessed firsthand the grassroots solutions revolution brought about by information and mobile technologies and the Internet, which needed to be fully embraced by the UN 


A Marketing and e-Marketing Strategy – the New SASVO, Prepared from December 2004 to February 2005 for the Southern African Student Volunteers (University of Pretoria). 

A Moment in Time: AIDS and Business, American Foundation for AIDS Research, 1999 

Closing the Loop: Latin America, Globalization and Human Development, UNCTAD, 1999 

David South Consulting Summary of Impact 1997 to 2014

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Innovations in Green Economy: Top Three Agenda

Mongolian Media Project Infographic

Peril and Promise: Higher Education in Developing Countries, World Bank/UNESCO Task Force on Higher Education, 2000

South-South Cooperation for Cities in Asia

Southern Innovator

Southern Innovator and the Growing Global Innovation Culture

Southern Innovator Summary of Impact 2011 to 2012

Southern Innovator Summary of Impact 2012 to 2014

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© David South Consulting 2017