Kenya: Cassava On eBay? M-Farm SMS Helps Kenya’s Farmers Get Better Prices



4 JULY 2013

Smallholder farmers stymied by lack of information can see realtime market prices for their produce, and now they want to sell to Tesco, too

The importance of smallholder farmers in terms of food security and economic development is increasingly being realised.

Most of the 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day live in rural areas and depend largely on agriculture, while an estimated 2.5 billion people work in full- or part-time smallholder agriculture, many of them in Africa. Yet these farmers labour under severe handicaps: remoteness from markets; lack of storage, seed and fertilisers; and weak bargaining power with buyers. A lack of information, particularly on prices, puts smallholders at a disadvantage.

M-Farm, a Kenyan company co-founded in 2010, seeks to redress the balance in favour of smallholder farmers by addressing what co-founder Jamila Abass calls “asymmetry of information” – and make money in the process.

Abass created M-Farm with Susan Oguya and Linda Kwamnoka, inspired to act by stories about the exploitation of smallholders by middlemen offering meagre prices.

“The exploitation of farmers is not new, it has been going on for a long time. We wanted to focus on agriculture and the challenges farmers had and the possibility of bringing about change,” said Abass, who was in London this month to attend Africa Gathering, a networking event, and to talk to supermarkets about linking them to African smallholders.

Abass, 29, one of 19 children from a poor family, left her job as a systems developer at the Kenya Medical Research Institute and joined Akirachix, an IT hub that brings together women and technology. The launch of M-Farm followed a €10,000 (about £8,500) investment prize.

“The competition was meant for men, but the timing was right because the technology sector was emphasising gender equality and the empowerment of women. We were very lucky,” she said.

The publicity helped to garner $100,000, half in grant and half in loan, from the UK charity TechforTrade, which supports innovative approaches to poverty alleviation.

M-Farm provides price information to farmers. By sending an SMS, farmers can see market prices in real time for their products – cassava, groundnuts, sorghum, passion fruit – so they do not get ripped off by buyers at their farms.


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