The Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) has unveiled an online trading platform that has capacity for nearly 5,000 times more transactions than its current “open outcry”. Since the ECX was started in 2008 trading has been done on a trading floor in its Addis Ababa headquarters by dealers trading directly with each other, and about 200 transactions a day could be done.
Initially, dealers using the eTRADE Platform would be based at the ECX HQ’s trading centre. However, eventually market players will be able to trade electronically from anywhere. The platform will be gradually rolled out to newly built ECX trading centres in regional cities Hawassa, Humera, Nekemte and, in the near future, an additional 4 centres. The ECX has trained and certified more than 445 ECX trading members and representatives who are qualified to trade on the platform.
The trading platform has been under construction for the past 2 years and was developed in-house at the ECX. It was unveiled on 8 October and, on launch day, a record $400,000 of coffee was traded according to this news release.
A test run was done on 20 July with trading in local washed and unwashed byproduct coffee. ECX says 2,390 metric tonnes of farm produce has been traded on the platform so far with a trade value of ETB 120 million (about $5.7m).
ECX chief executive officer Ermias Eshetu said: “The inauguration of this eTRADE platform sets a new course for Ethiopia and brings with it unparalleled economic and social benefits. The platform inevitably breaks the physical and time barrier of the current open-outcry trading platform and provides the ECX with vital economies-of-scale to trade a number of additional new commodities.”
Transforming life for small farmers
The Investment Climate Facility for Africa (ICF) and other partners have been supporting the programme, according to this news release. William Asiko, CEO of ICF, said the platform would bring a revolution to Ethiopia’s agriculture sector: “The modernization of ECX will help to improve the business environment for stakeholders involved in the commodities sector and give Ethiopian agricultural products a competitive advantage.
“But for farmers, this modernization will be life-changing. It will enable farmers to get better pricing for their produce, thereby creating a more equitable distribution of wealth that has far-reaching social implications.”
The ECX was founded with the aim of improving agricultural marketing – a large part of its success is due to the large network of warehouses, quality controls and logistics up and down the country, and its main aim is to empower smallholder farmers, including through better information about prices. The current Government 5-year Growth and Transformation Plan II, launched from July 2015, sees state-run ECX serving 24 “agro-centres” with increased storage and warehousing facilities and better transport links.
Ermias, who became CEO in January after coming from Zemen Bank, said in April that the Government is establishing an enterprise to oversee the upgrading of warehousing, which will rely on a mixture of public and private capital. Donors including the World Bank and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are considering supporting what will require “huge investment,” he said.
One key tool for ECX has been its short message service (SMS) and interactive voice response (IVR) notifications of market data to farmers and others. This was introduced in 2011 in Amharic and English and gives real-time access to commodity prices. The SMS service processes 800,000 transactions a month and the IVR handles 1m calls a month, according to the news release. An upgrade was unveiled on 8 October which expands to Oromiffa and Tigrinya languages and introduces menu-based services (USSD) and new interfaces.
ECX mulls trading securities
Earlier this year it was also considering whether it could trade securities, including stocks and bonds, as part of its 5-year expansion plan. Ermias told Bloomberg in April: “We want to be a marketplace for any kind of stock, be it derivatives, agricultural commodities, financial instruments. That’s the ultimate vision.” He added that formal discussions have not yet begun on trading securities.
“With the two components, logistics and scalability, we will be able to introduce multiple commodities to the market,” he said. “ECX must offer the truly transparent marketplace for anything that’s going on in the Ethiopian economy.”
He said the market could move from coffee and sesame seeds, which account for more than 90% of volumes and are the two biggest generators of foreign exchange in Ethiopia, to sugar and grains such as corn and then add equities, government debt, power and metals.
Bloomberg cites Yohannes Assefa, the director of Stalwart Management Consultancy, a Dubai-based group working on Kenyan and Tanzanian exchanges, saying that ECX has capacity to expand beyond agricultural commodities within 12 months: “The existing platform is robust and the regulatory system is mature and well managed.”
The main problem would be changing government regulations, and Yohannes warned this “may require serious internal consultation before a change of policy.”
Exporters want futures
Bloomberg adds that coffee exporters such as Fekade Mamo, general manager of Addis Ababa-based Mochaland Import and Export, criticize the ECX for not allowing futures trading to hedge positions in a volatile global market. Ermias said it would take more than a year to build necessary steps for this, including insurance options for farmers in case they can’t deliver, better access to credit and the strengthening of the legal system.
Donors including USAID and the United Nations have supported the ECX when it was launched in order to boost efficiency of food markets in a nation where millions regularly went hungry. It had strong support from the Government, which decreed that exporters of coffee – Ethiopia is Africa’s biggest producer – must buy from traders on the bourse before they can export and within a year the ECX was the main route for coffee exports.
In 2014 it traded ETB 26.2 billion birr ($1.3bn) worth of goods.
ETB 1.6m for trading seat
In May the 17th trading seat was auctioned and won by an individual, Abayneh Zerfu, who bid ETB 1.6m ($76,000), according to this story in Addis Fortune newspaper, which said there were 4 bids. The ECX manages the bid if a member sells his or her seat and they are only allowed to do this after trading for 3 years and meeting requirements. Yohannes Hamereselassie, member development specialist at the ECX, said the original price for a seat was ETB301,000.