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Running out of credit: the limitations of mobile telephony in a Tanzanian agricultural marketing system*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2008

Thomas Molony
Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, Chrystal Macmillan Building, 15A George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LD, United Kingdom


Poor farmers often lack credit to purchase agricultural inputs, and rely on their buyers to provide it. This paper considers the effects of mobile phones on traders of perishable foodstuffs operating between Tanzania's Southern Highlands and Dar es Salaam's wholesale market, with a particular focus on the importance of credit in the relationship between potato and tomato farmers and their wholesale buyers. It argues that the ability to communicate using these new information and communication technologies (ICTs) does not significantly alter the trust relationship between the two groups. It also suggests that farmers, in effect, often have to accept the price they are told their crops are sold for – irrespective of the method of communication used to convey this message – because their buyers are also their creditors. In this situation, many farmers are unable to exploit new mobile phone-based services to seek information on market prices, and potential buyers in other markets. Doing so runs the risk of breaking a long-term relationship with a buyer who is willing to supply credit because of their established business interaction. It is suggested that, under a more open system than currently exists in Tanzania, mobile-payment (‘m-payment’) applications should target these creditor-buyers as key agents in connecting farmers to the credit they so often require.

Research Article
Copyright © 2008 Cambridge University Press

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The research was funded by a doctoral studentship (R42200134339) awarded by the United Kingdom's Economic and Social Research Council. The paper was written during a postdoctoral fellowship at the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Thanks for constructive comments are given to Caryn Abrahams, Jan Kees van Donge, and the other (anonymous) reviewer.



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Multiple interviews were conducted with some informants over the period indicated in the introduction. Those listed below refer only to the specific interviews that are mentioned in the text.

Angelo Manigula Kilave, tomato farmer, Mtitu, Iringa region, 18.3.2003, 7.5.2003 and 5.9.2003.

Bartholomeo Sanga & Festo Mkilama, madalali, Kariakoo market, Dar es Salaam, 17.9.2003.

Berod Mhanga, tomato farmer, Ilula Mazomba, Iringa region, 4.9.2003.

Edward Sanga, tomato farmer, Kidamali, Iringa region, 6.5.2003.

Exoni Manitu, tomato farmer, Mangalali, Iringa region, 19.3.2003, 15.5.2003 and 6.9.2003.

Festo Mkilama, tomato dalali, Kariakoo market, Dar es Salaam, 15.4.2003.

Geoffrey Sanga, potato kiunganishi, Ntokela, Mbeya region, 23.5.2003.

Kamwene Benedict Mlelwa Sanga, potato dalali, Kariakoo market, Dar es Salaam, 5.1.2003 and 17.4.2003.

Kuboja Ng'ungu, General Manager, Kariakoo Market Corporation, Kariakoo, 27.8.2003.

Maiko Bakari, African blackwood carvings (vinyago) trader, Masasi, Mtwara Region, 22.7.2003.

Nicanor Omolo, Senior statistician, Kariakoo Market Corporation, Kariakoo, Dar es Salaam, 27.8.2003.

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