Three female entrepreneurs in 2010 got together to develop a mobile solution that would provide market price transparency for Kenyan farmers. Jamilla Abass co-founded M-Farm – an m-Agriculture program – with Susan Oguya and Linda Kwamnoka. Exploitation of farmers at the hands of middlemen, due to their lack of information on market prices motivated these women to seek solutions that could reduce the information gap.
Primarily, M-Farm is an SMS-based m-Agriculture platform that provides real-time information to farmers on market prices for 42 commonly farmed produce in the country. Since its inception, around 7,000 farmers have signed up for the service that also enables farmers to sell their produce via phones, for which the company charges a small commission. M-Farm is a boon for the farmer, for it also allows group selling – individual small-holder farmers now do not lose out on lucrative retail markets to large-scale producers, as farmers team up to sell larger quantities. This m-Agriculture service also allows small farmers to take advantage of group-buying where they can avail significant discounts on farming inputs, such as fertilisers and seeds.
During a sale, the farmer brings their produce to a designated collection point and sends an SMS to M-Farm once he/she delivers the goods. The buyer then confirms the quantity and quality of the goods and sends a corresponding message to M-Farm; once the order is completed, M-Farm releases the money to the farmer’s account, or sends money via an integrated mobile money transfer system like M-Pesa. If several farmers are involved in the sale, the money is distributed according to those involved. The process effectively reduces the need or the work of a middleman who would often take a large cut. The company has recently launched a new mobile application for android phones that would provide similar m-Agriculture services through mobile internet.
Other m-Agriculture programs
Other impressive examples of m-Agriculture include the iCow through which farmers can get tips on animal husbandry and are alerted to their cows’ gestation periods. The service allows them to use an SMS-code where they can register their cows and enter their insemination dates; the farmer then receives alert messages for the best days for calving or for new insemination. In addition, through its iCow Soko market, farmers can trade livestock.
The Kilimo Salama (safe farming in Swahili) is another m-Agriculture product; it provides insurance coverage to farmers and offers SMS alerts for severe weather conditions that may be forecast.
Through these new m-Agriculture initiatives, made possible by mobile technology and innovations in the M4D (Mobile for Development) sector, we now see major strides in the agriculture sector. Challenges still exist on the infrastructural front as well as the know-how and awareness in the agricultural community of such types of services – it nevertheless is befitting to say that we are not a very long way off from realising fair markets, in which farmers are also the worthy beneficiaries of their produce.
Do you know of any interesting m-Agriculture programs in your country? Please discuss in the comments below.