Improving Access to Trade and Market Information with SMS/USSD Platforms in Kenya and UgandaTrade and Market Information Platform
Sauti’s mobile Trade and Market Information Platform currently reaches over 27,000 cross-border traders across four East African countries.
The platform was first released in Kenya and Uganda in 2017 with the East African Sub Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI). It was designed to empower women cross-border traders in “low-technology” and periphery areas of Kenya and Uganda to trade legally, profitably, and safely across East African borders.
Access to information is critical for cross-border traders to identify trade opportunities, comply with trade regulations, and negotiate favourable prices in foreign markets. However, many women cross-border traders in “low-technology” areas face a number of barriers to accessing this information.
Baseline data indicated that prior to using Sauti, traders were spending 3.50 to 13 USD on calls to other traders/brokers to access trade and market information, and between 50 minutes and 5 hours for travelling to markets in order to access market information.
Furthermore, as a result of an increase in phone ownership in the East African Community (EAC) in recent years, with more than 75% of EAC citizens owning a phone, access to information should be easier than ever. However, most of these are simple feature phones primarily used for texting or calls and cannot access online information resources.
Sauti partnered with the EASSI to implement a mobile-based trade and market information system specifically for women-owned small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) engaged in cross-border trade in the EAC. The platform uses SMS, USSD, and, most recently, WhatsApp technology to close the digital information divide for women in trade across East Africa.
Cross-border traders interact with the Sauti mobile platform via USSD or WhatsApp from smart or feature phones to access tailored trade and market information. The platform is fully integrated with regional market prices, border procedures, official tax rates, real-time exchange rate information, and bribery/harassment reporting features for our Kenyan, and Ugandan USSD codes (*716#, *284*111# and *801*35# respectively) and Whatsapp (+254 20 389 3576).
The platform includes automatic, real-time updates for 110 product prices across 82 markets in 6 EAC countries. The platform also supports five languages, English, Swahili, Luganda, Kinyarwanda and Lukiga.
The project was funded by the D-Prize Challenge, the HiiL Innovating Justice Accelerator, the GIZ-EAC Incubator for Integration and Development.
The platform has benefited over 27,000 cross-border traders (male and female) and has successfully facilitated over 85,000 requests for trade and market information across the EAC.
The platform has helped traders negotiate better prices at the market and better forex rates with money changers; identify new markets and products within the EAC; diversify products and markets within the EAC; estimate their costs and potential profits; and save time and money by accessing trade and market information on the platform.
- All sampled platform users have been able to grow their business revenue and sales as a result of using the platform;
- 68% of have been able to identify new products to trade in; and
- 90% have identified new regional markets to trade in.
Traders using Sauti also report that they find it easier to navigate the formal border and understand what taxes and tariffs they need to pay. 76% of surveyed users said that since using Sauti they are more aware of the requirements for clearing their goods through the gazetted border, while 52% are more aware of the taxes applicable to their consignments.