Online marketing empowers farmers to give brokers a run for their money
Posted Tuesday, January 29 2013 at 15:19
Any aspiring successful business man or woman knows the power behind the social media and the online market is so massive that investors have moved the war for clients in Nairobi, capital of Kenya.
To keep up with the growing trend, farmers have not been left behind. In a small village in Laikipia, farmers have jumped into the online market. They are using their phones to tap the latest information on which market is offering the best price. Be it cabbage, carrots, potatoes or livestock, the market info is now on their finger tips.
Through new technologies accessible through the internet and mobile phones, the farmers are now giving brokers a run for their money. In some parts of rural Kenya, where over 80 percent of farming activities takes place, farmers have had to pour off their milk or even feed human food like potatoes to livestock even as other parts of the country face starvation.
The Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), a non-governmental organization working which has pitched camp in Laikipia, has given many farmers a lifeline. ALIN was instrumental in setting up the Ng'arua Maarifa Center, a focal point for farmers seeking knowledge on various aspects of agriculture.
"Access to information empowers farmers as they are able to obtain firsthand knowledge on emerging issues, farm inputs, disease and pest control and more importantly market trend for their products," said Kipsang' Bett, the organization's field officer.
Located at Sipili Township in the arid Laikipia district, northern Kenya, the knowledge center is equipped with modern information facilities and vital agricultural reading materials with the latest information on agriculture.Laikipia district is one of the region in the East African nation which suffers from perpetual water shortages and drought.
It is a conflict zone between sedentary farming communities and pastoralists over scarce resources of land, water and grazing areas. ALIN has assisted the center to acquire Information Technology accessories like computers, scanners, printers, iPods, video and still cameras as well as provide free internet service via a local mobile phone subscription.
In areas with poor mobile network, ALIN provides Very Short Aperture Terminal (VSAT) for fast satellite communication. "Our volunteers collect farming and other rural information, document it in simplified manner and post it (through) our information portal. It is free for downloading and sharing out to farmers in information centres," says Kipsang'. Through open source software, users of the information portals can access thousands of files on rural information collected and documented from all over East Africa. But farmers may also upload questions and suggestions directly into the portal –allowing experts from research organizations to seek answers and respond.
Through this farmers can also raise questions and get instant answers. The questions are passed to numerous research organizations in Kenya such as the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI), and International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) among others.
To access market information, the center has developed a computer system-currently under pilot stage- where farmers can obtain first hand market prices of cereals, cattle and other commodities in many towns in Kenya. At the same time, the center has been instrumental of training farmers on the use of mobile phones to access market information.
"Farmers only need to send a certain code to a local mobile phone company and prices of commodities in all towns are received via short message service (sms). The local pastoralists have benefited immensely from this service as they can access market prices of cattle before reaching the market place," said Samuel Macharia, an official of Laikipia Center for Knowledge and Information (LACKIN) which runs the Ng'arua Center.
Using their mobile phones, pastoralists and cattle traders have been able to access market trends from the National Livestock Marketing Information System (NLMIS) run by the Ministry of Livestock.The information center also has an archive of important information for farmers almost on all issues concerning agriculture.
A large collection of reference books, journals and magazines are also available to farmers eager to read and acquire fresh knowledge.ALIN staff also offer extension services while organizing exchange programs where farmers from one region can visit and share information with others from within the East African region. The information center has also been providing e-government services such an online job application, PIN application among other services to the framers.