Rural Farmers Can Benefit From Mobile Phone Extension

Friday, November 11, 2005

Liberia’s mobile phone companies are extending services to residents in the 16 counties of Liberia. Lone Star Cell and Libercell now lead the extension of mobile phone services, even though CellCom and Comium are also in the business. Besides providing services in Montserrado County, Lone Star Cell and Libercell are providing mobile phone communication in Maryland, Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Bong, Lofa, Margibi, Grand Bassa, Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties respectively.

This mobile phone development in the counties can help rural farmers in knowing the market price for agriculture produce. Furthermore, the service extension in rural Liberia can lead to the rural communities and Monrovia doing more business. In fact, the mobile phone extension may be a welcome development for the return of more rural residents to their towns and villages after spending some years in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, which have sprawled around Monrovia and its environs because of the 14 years civil upheaval.For instance, over the weekend, a Muslim family was traveling to attend a Muslim festival in the Month of Ramadan in a town near Bo Waterside, Grand Cape Mount County. The husband purchased some Libercell Sim cards just to remain connected while in Cape Mount for the weekend. What made the family trip worth mentioning was the convenient of communication for this family as provided by Libercell.

Although the husband and wife are users of Lone Star Cell’s service, they prepared themselves to stay in contact with communication by extracting the Lone Star Cell Sim Cards and replacing them with that of Libercell in their mobile phones. Therefore, with development of mobile phone services, people residing in Monrovia can make weekend trips in the counties, vise versa, and still be in contact with families and friends staying behind. As this communication development moves, communication links between Monrovia and the counties is going to enable people move around the countryside with ease.

For similar reason, internally displaced persons can easily return to their towns and villages while remaining in touch with their connections back in Monrovia. Yet still, Lone Star or Libercell may be providing mobile phone service that links them with the people they have lived with, and are leaving behind, without traveling back to see them.

For example, since Libercell informed the public that it has extended mobile phone service to Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County. Information indicates that people have been receiving the network in other towns such as Sinje, Wongayko, Tienii, Dieh, and Bo Waterside situated in Cape Mount County. As a result, people have been communicating with relatives and friends in Monrovia. Moreover, it is motivating other business people to establish mobile phone booths that can provide access to mobile phones in the area.

In addition, the mobile phone service extension can be of benefit to the tourism industry and agricultural sector of Liberia. Such tourism development can take place in Robertsport, the provincial capital of Grand Cape Mount County. Robertsport has a beautiful mountainous background. Furthermore, it is located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, and the banks of the Lake Piso. With its mountainous landscape, the provincial city gives residents beautiful views of the ocean and lake, at the same time. A tourist can stand from Robertsport and look far in the horizon gazing at the beauty of the Lake Piso and the Atlantic Ocean.

Moreover, the Lake provides natural scene for boat riding. With such geographical feature, Robertsport can receive foreign visitations. That shows how hotel accommodations in Monrovia can take their guests on tour in Robertsport. The city is between 62 to 63 miles away from Monrovia. With access to communication, the city can enjoy the goodwill of foreign guests for site seeing deep into the county.

Nevertheless, Robertsport also has large fishing community that produces tones of desiccated or dry fish annually. Monrovia consumes some of the fishes harvested by fishermen in the municipal city. Such fish trading has helped stabilize prices of fish in Monrovia.

For example, when Robertsport was cut off during the civil war, Monrovia could not receive fish supply from there. At the same time, both fish sellers and consumers were experiencing high prices for the product in Monrovia.

Fishermen on the beach of West Point in Monrovia would explain that they were not catching enough fish for the city’s fish consumption. Though such market condition prevailed, they added that if time were normal, Robertsport would supply Monrovia with dry fish.

As a result, this is just one business area that the mobile phone service development can improve in that rural community. With the flow of information by mobile phone, the fishermen can trade between Monrovia and Robertsport at lower cost. Such minimum trading cost ensures price stability for the consumers of dry fish in Monrovia.

On the other hand, the nation’s agriculture production is bound to gain more positive from the mobile phone service extension. It can lead to speedy rehabilitation and recovery of cocoa and coffee farms abandoned during the civil war in the country. This development is going to come with the certainty of prices for cocoa and coffee between the rural farmers and the main produce buyer- the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC).

For example, many small rural rubber farmers are back on their rubber farms, because they are well informed about the price per pound of rubber that the Firestone Rubber Plantation Company in Harbal, Margibi County, is offering to the farmers, plus other incentives. As this price development has been encouraging for small-scale rubber farmers’ production, it can also serve well for the rural cocoa and coffee farmers. With the extension of mobile service, rural cocoa and coffee farmers can be assured of the prices offered by LPMC.

Some of the counties where the mobile phone service can benefit agriculture are Nimba, Bong, and Lofa respectively. Before the civil war, these counties were major cocoa and coffee producing areas of Liberia that served as the core produce supplying regions for the LPMC.

However, in the past, the produce marketing faced one difficulty that even affected Liberia’s total supplies of cocoa and coffee to the world market.

The rural farmers were the main producers of cocoa and coffees. Between the rural farmers and the LPMC, there were middlemen in the agriculture produce trade. In addition, some of the middlemen were workers of agricultural cooperatives. The middlemen were the main buyers as well as sellers of cocoa and coffees from the rural farmers to LPMC.However, as always with the middleman trade, the rural farmers faced uncertainty about the price they received for their produce. The middlemen received commissions that came directly from the prices offered by LPMC. As a result, rural farmers could smuggle produce across the border to Ivory Coast for sale at higher prices.

Nevertheless, with mobile phone service in the counties, cocoa and coffee farmers can now have direct access to information from LPMC about the prices of cocoa and coffee.

Source: Liberian Observer (link opens in a new window)