Give ’em a phone

Why don’t coffee growers get more for their beans when world prices are higher? First off, I had to admit, I didn’t know that they didn’t. But apparently even against a background of rapidly rising prices, growers do not get much more. A new study of coffee growers in Uganda explains that rising prices brings out so-called “ddebe boys”, part-time coffee traders who “insert themselves between farmers and larger permanent traders and mills”. The ddebe is a 20 kg tin that they use to purchase coffee from farmers who are ignorant of the true market prices. The obvious solution is to give farmers access to current market information.

Marcel Fafchamps and Ruth Vargas Hill, who conducted this study say they don’t know whether this would solve the problem, but that it deserves to be looked at. I agree. There are already NGOs working with Ugandan farmers via mobile phones, and we know that phones make markets more efficient, so I hope someone gets going on this soon. As for the ddebe boys, I expect they too will find a way to make a living. Maybe by sending SMS spam?

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