Frequently across Africa’s agricultural chains, problems persist including unsustainable exploitation of natural resources such as water, inadequate sharing of ideas, information knowledge and expertise with farmers by experts, expensive middlemen, inadequate access to a four-season transportation infrastructure, significant post-harvest losses both in transit and storage, limited access to fair markets and inadequate research just to mention a few. Innovations in ICT in this crucial sector can help farmers (especially) reap maximally from their efforts. Here in Kenya, such a revolution is underway in one of the biggest agricultural markets in the country.
Nairobi’s Wakulima market is where most buyers especially restaurant owners and small-scale business people (such as grocers) in the city depend on for their consistent supply of vegetable produce as well as other food products. As is the case in most African agricultural value chains, most of the products are not brought into the markets by farmers themselves rather brokers or middlemen call the shots, dictating to potential buyers the prices. They often buy cheaply from upcountry farmers products such as potatoes and sell them at a fortune in the city market.
This skewed chain prevalent across much of Africa’s value chain may soon be a thing of the past thanks to innovations from the tech world in the sector. One Stephen Kimiri in Kenya has invented SokoShambani, a platform that enables small-scale farmers’ direct access to markets and get real time information on for instance product prices, thus enabling them sell their produce directly to buyers. The platform makes use of a free SMS service that runs on 8988 short-code made possible by the micro-blogging social media giant Twitter. This new arrangement gives the two main players – small-scale farmers and buyers – leverage over the middlemen. For far too long, the middlemen have been doing too little yet they benefit a lot in the continent’s all too common skewed agricultural products’ value chain.
With SokoShambani, the main parties greatly benefit as farmers sell at a higher cost than what many presently get from brokers, while buyers are also able to purchase at a lower cost than the brokers’ prices. Mr. Kimiri puts forward that farmers and vendors subscribe to the short code enabling them communicate directly via-text messages. He adds that through the platform, they trade directly while at the same time sharing important information on agronomics, market intelligence, market reports and updates.