Monday, June 1, 2009

Marketing Info Systems Vital for Comesa Customs Union

Dr Sindiso Ngwenya, The Herald, 1 June 2009

NOW that the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa is moving towards the launch of the Customs Union and consequently full integration of the region, more emphasis is being put on the improvement of communication and information in order to reach that vital goal.

Furthermore, compelled by the present world food crisis, member states are now looking to the agriculture sector as a priority for the development of Africa.

Comesa understands that it is time to offer the region a solid regional market information system that will serve as portal to all the national and regional market information systems.

It is for this reason that Comesa is introducing the Food and Agricultural Market Information System to the business community in the region.

FAMIS is a web-based regional food and agricultural marketing information system designed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and developed by Computer Frontier International under the auspices of the Agricultural Marketing Promotion and Regional Integration Project.

FAMIS is one of the three major achievements of AMPRIP, alongside the Comesa Regional Sanitary and Phytosanitary Regulations and the establishment of the three regional Sanitary and Phytosanitary Reference Laboratories (dedicated to animal health; plant protection and food safety respectively).

It has the full support of Comesa member states who are the main sources of information that goes into the system.

FAMIS was designed to cover all agricultural commodities and food products traded within and outside the Comesa region, in order to bridge the regional information gaps in agricultural markets and to facilitate and enhance trade through the provision of reliable and up-to-date market information on key agricultural commodities and trade-related issues throughout the region.

Thus, FAMIS aims to link buyers to sellers and surplus to deficit areas for major tradable agricultural commodities in the region.

FAMIS users will benefit immensely from a timely and transparent price discovery system and a large economic trading space.

Further, FAMIS aims to improve agricultural marketing through the dissemination of market information, policy changes and impacts in order to enhance decision-making by all stakeholders, thereby improving policy design and implementation in member states.

With the establishment of FAMIS, farmers and traders in the Comesa region will be able to make informed decisions on trading in agricultural commodities.

After its handover by IITA and CFI in July 2007, FAMIS is being managed by a team of IT staff and experts at the Comesa headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, and by a team of national administrators at the member state level under the co-ordination of ministries in charge of agriculture.

FAMIS administrators are in charge of uploading the website with data and information from the technical focal points. A technical focal point is a representative of each collaborating ministry, organisation, enterprise or association identified by the Ministry of Agriculture as a source of relevant data and information.

Users will notice that the FAMIS website provides data from the public and private sectors.

All services provided are free of charge. Users will also find information regarding food security and policies.

In addition, they will find sanitary and phytosanitary-related data, news and regulations; check out spot prices and compare prices of a specific commodity from one country to another; observe monthly trade flows, get transport information; agricultural capacity building programmes, statistics and information about agricultural publications on good practices and other issues in the region.

FAMIS provides a trade platform aiming to bring traders together by giving them a facility to post their offers to buy or sell. FAMIS also provides space for the business community to post their adverts and events.

Further, there is also possibility for the business community to register in the FAMIS business directory called Afribusiness.

Finally, FAMIS gives to users the opportunity to express their opinion through its discussion forum facility.

With the collaboration of the African Development Bank, the Comesa Secretariat is focusing on the technical sustainability of the system, by first securing the after warranty service and, at the same time, developing in-house expertise for IT staff to maintain the system and modify and/or re-engineer it based on new user demands.

Secondly, the focus is on the timely and accurate update of the database, by ensuring that FAMIS is fully and timely populated with relevant and accurate data.

Thirdly, the focus is on the visibility and use of the FAMIS website among private sector stakeholders.

Finally, the focus will be for member states to mainstream FAMIS into their national agricultural budgets and activities such as, agricultural extension, marketing and promotion of agro-processing and value addition, which will ensure long-term sustainability of the system.

Dr Sindiso Ngwenya is the Comesa Secretary-General.