Stories from Malawi: how to barter your phone for 4 goats

By | March 13, 2009
Photo credit: John Lumbe, Malawi, March 2009

John Lumbe reports on how the barter system works in his home region in Malawi:

It has never been simple to determine the trade. It mostly goes with agreement of the parties entering the contract.

Like the one I talked about in my blog post, happened in the area called Mkulumadzi , Southern Malawi. The other is a taxi driver; he has been visiting people in the village; with his headphones in the ears. The villager liked the phone. He wishes to listen it as his own one day.

They start the contract discussions until they reach at the reasonable price of four goats. One goat is costing 1500–3000 Malawi Kwacha ($10-$20), the price of the phone is 11 500 Malawi Kwacha (82 $), while the price of the four goats is going at 12 000 Malawi kwacha ($85). So even myself I can prove the ratios to better and fair.

It is not only the phones even some small radios. I met with certain man he said, he exchanged a radio with three goats two years ago, but now; the goats has multiplied as you can see in the pictures. The radio was costing 6000 Malawi kwacha ($42).

So the question of how you would negotiate the value of a mobile phone in terms of a good – ideally one that keeps on giving, as do these nanny goats – is simpler than I'd imagined. And in a way, far more complex, because we're able to calculate the time value of money but what are the future returns on investment if your three goats multiply into a profitable herd? Who is getting the better deal? While a mobile phone may certainly increase your income would a radio be able to do the same?

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