Gjorgje is a farmer. He and his workers grow tomatoes in rows of greenhouses near Strumica, in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. So why does he seem to be on his mobile phone all the time? There is a very good reason.
“These tomato farmers are using SMS messages not to communicate with their friends, as we could imagine at first glance, but for totally professional reasons,» says euronews’ Claudio Rocco.
These farmers are testing the so-called “e-agro” project, launched by the Macedonian Government together with Ericsson. It is an SMS-based auction system, allowing farmers to find the best prices for their crops – whether local or based anywhere in the world.
Today farmers have great difficulties in finding the best buyer for their products and sometimes they are forced to sell them locally at a cheap rate; but with e-agro the buyers could be very far away, and offer higher prices.
Furthermore farmers get real-time information on crop prices. This application will stimulate the use of modern technology in rural areas of emerging countries like Macedonia. Importantly, it is also quite easy to use.
“The first thing that I do is write the name of the product, that is tomatoes, and then I write the sort of tomato, in this case Magnus. I leave a space and I write the packaging of the tomatoes, wooden boxes, then I write the price for the products and send the info to the bidders. Then we wait for the bidders replies with their price offers,” says Josif Malinovski.
Gjorge agrees the system means he has a better market for his products:
“This is the easiest way to sell our goods. We don’t waste time. We stay here in the greenhouses, we pick our products, we find the buyers and sell the crops using SMS.”
To know more about the e-agro programme we went to Skopje, the capital of the Macedonian Republic, to meet Mr. Ivo Ivanovski, the young Minister of Information Society and Administration. At the moment the farmers are being trained to use this technology.
“We believe that this programme will be well- accepted by the farmers. At the moment we are still piloting. The advantage is that the farmers are constantly in the field; we believe with that this kind of mobile application they can be in touch with all the other farmers in Macedonia and they can be in touch with the 2 billion people that are connected on the Internet these days, because it’s important for them to get information right on time, and it’s important for them to distribute their information to the potential buyers,” says Ivanovski.
As in Macedonia the mobile phone penetration is very high – almost two phones per person – the Government wants to extend this SMS-based technology to other sectors like education or health care.
Developers say it has not always been easy to familiarise farmers with this technology but, once e-agro is fully operational, it could offer farmers a broader vision of the market and be better informed so as not to be over-dependant, as in the past, on the local economy.