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Connecting farmers to buyers, one click at a time

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Kenyan farmers now don’t have to deal with the middleman, whether looking for market for their produce or information.

By Boniface Otieno Kanyamwaya

The agricultural sector is the mainstay of Kenya’s economy, directly contributing 24 per cent of the country’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The sector also contributes about 27 per cent to the GDP indirectly through linkages with manufacturing, distribution, and other service related sectors.

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Agricultural sector is also the largest employer in the economy, accounting for 60 per cent of the total employment in the country. Over 80 per cent of the population,especially in rural areas, derive their livelihood mainly from agricultural related activities.

The sector is predominantly composed of small scale farmers who sell their produce at give a way prices due to lack of market information.

It has been established that the middlemen often take advantage of the small scale farmers’ lack of market information to buy their produce at low prices, even when the prevailing rates are higher. This has in turn affected farmers’ morale, leading to low productivity and decline in household income. But thanks to mFarm, the farmers will not have to worry anymore about the middleman.

MFarm is an online produce-trading platform that seeks to connect farmers and buyers while at the same time providing them with all the market information they need.

It is an innovative mobile and web-based platform that links farmers and other players within the agricultural value chain, with an aim of improving operational efficiency, communication and viable linkages.

According to Kwame Adom Bentil, chief executive officer of Image-Ad Ghana Limited, mFarm was developedin 2001 at a cost of US$ 100,000.

How it works

Bentil says any farmer with a smartphone can download the mFarmapp free of charge. After installing it, the farmer can access price information of the previous five days for a number of cropsin all the countries they are operating in.

As of today, theapp is being used in 15 African countries with seven regional representatives in Ghana and country representative in Benin, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Cote d’ Ivoire, Rwanda, and Togo.

The mobile app also provides monthly analysis of crop prices in different markets to show price trends, enabling farmers to make informed decision on what to plant when, how to price their produce, and the available markets.

Bentil says through this platform, agents can give farmers group financial advice and work with agronomists on the ground to guide farmers on how to grow marketable and high value crops.

“Our extensive network of agents collects and verifies prices to ensure its accuracy. The information is then sent to farmers instantly in their local language at an SMS or voice message on their phones. Clients using the web portal can view more detailed information and trends in prices in different locations.”

Another solution offered by mFarms,Bentil I says, is the communication hub, which enables farmers and organisations to market their products, conduct surveys or broadcast messages using SMS and voice messages with instant delivery reports and dashboards.

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The app also provides solutions such as field management, which aims at effective management of field agents, task assignment and monitoring of their activities when dealing with massive service group.

This service, according to the CEO, is essential for agricultural services based businesses that really need timeliness and precision in its execution.

Other solution provided by the mFarms includes m-Xtension, loan or warehouse management, farmer to market, and commodity and agri-inputs prices.

However, m-Xtension, Farmer to Market and Commodity and Agri-input prices are the three main components of mFarms.

“M-Xtension aims at providing farmers with information on good agricultural practices, pests and disease management. The service is delivered via SMS and voice messages to farmers for free with an aim of bringing good agricultural practices to the door step of smallholder farmers in order to increase their yield and incomes,” he says.

Farmer to market, however, seeks to link farmers to output and input markets thereby helping farmers or farmer groups to pool their demand for inputs such as fertilizers prior to the season. It also helps them find ready market before going into production.

On the other hand, commodity and Agri-input prices enables mFarm’s extension network of agents to collect prices and verify from different sources to ensure its accuracy.

The information is then sent to farmers instantly as an SMS or voice message on their phone. However, clients using web portal can view more detailed information and trends in prices in different locations.

Beneficiaries

According to the CEO, mFarms is mainly used by large companies, Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs), local and international institutions facilitating trade, ensuring food security, collecting and analysing various types of data for decision making.

Bentil notes that smallholder farmers benefit from mFarms services directly through those organizations or through self-subscription. SMEs users of mFarms are made of Agro-dealers, Seed companies, off-takers and some processors along the various agricultural value chains.

Currently,the CEO says, over 180,000 farmers have been profiled, with over 40,000 receiving monthly input prices and extension messages based on their crop and when their farming season starts.

Impact

Unlike other platforms, mFarms solution enable off-takers to be abreast with their field officers activities remotely thanks to a geo-referenced report they sent based on tasks assigned to them before, during and after the cropping season.

“This enables off-takers to estimate their farmers need of input ahead of the season and, forecast yield based on land size and crop cultivated.

“In the next five years, Kenyan farmers should expect to see a significant improvement in the way we do agribusiness,” he says.

 

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