Thursday, July 5, 2012

ICT's Enable market acces for Laikipia west farmers


  Marketing of Agricultural produce by farmers in Laikipia west was a big challenge until the inception of (sokopepe) an ICT based system supported by the ‘‘Arid Lands Information Network’’ (ALIN). The Sokopepe portal (www.sokopepe.co.ke) is used to connect farmers directly to prospective buyers. 

A tomato farm near Ol-mutuny Dam
 Farmers also have the opportunity to access market information like prices of different items to enable them make informed decisions before venturing into the market. ICT tools like mobile phones and the internet has given the process a mileage. To inquire for market prices for farm produce through the short message service (sms), type (price # crop name #location) and send via sms to 3227. 

 For example, if farmers want to sell a product, say beans, they can now access the market prices in major towns using their mobile phones at the comfort of their homes. They just have to type the message: (Price#Beans#Mombasa) and sending to 3227.

 The sokopepe portal automatically responds by providing the current market value of beans in that specific town and a procedure on how to make an order for the same, in case the inquirer is a potential buyer. An example of the response is ‘‘the price of Beans Mwitemania in Mombasa is Ksh. 6900 per 90 Kgs. To order for this product sms order#beans mwitemania#your quatinty#mombasa) and send to 3227, from Sokopepe’’ 

  Mr. Muthee Mwangi a tomato farmer from Githima Sub-location, Ol-moran Division Laikipia County was ushered into a world of easy marketing two years ago through a workshop held at the Maarifa Centre. A series of workshops were then organized by ALIN to build farmer’s capacity on issues to do with marketing of farm produce. 

Mwangi would later inform his peers about the latest innovation in their locality that has eased their market access. He also attended a workshop at the invitation of the Ng’arua based ALIN field officer Mr. Bett Kipsang. To him he thought this was just another capacity building exercise. 

However, it turned out to be an exercise full of good fortunes for farmers, like him, who had been troubled for a long time by lack of access to markets and market information. His fellow farmers received the news happily..

 Mwangi being a horticultural farmer grow tomatoes, carrots, water melons among other fruits. He is not alone in this; he belongs to a self-help group started in 2009 after a severe drought hit Laikipia District, it is named; Ol-Mutunyi Conservation Group, they also make efforts to conserve the environment
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In 2009, a lot of people migrated to other parts of the country because they could not tolerate the harsh conditions brought by the drought. However, the few farmers who remained were forced to device mitigation measures to avert the crisis facing the area. The birth of the Ol-Mutunyi conservation group came out as the best option. 

A diesel water pump used for irrigation
 The farms are located near the Ol-mutunyi dam, where they get water for irrigation, they produce a lot of food for local consumption and commercial use. Commercially, they could not rely on the local market to absorb all their supplies. This posed a great challenge which almost killed their dream of self-sustainability. Perishable commodities demands immediate marketing to avoid losses. It also emerged that it was not just a market that they needed but a good market which will give them better returns to continue with their activities.
Mwangi is full of praise for Maarifa Centre. He acknowledges the critical role the Centre played on their lives by linking them with buyers. His knowledge of sokopepe gave him an advantage. He uses the service to inquire about prices of commodities and receives instant feedback on his phone. Through the networks created, he also gets knowledge of the right seeds to buy.

Initially he started by uploading his offer of commodities in the system. A market surveyor was hired by ALIN to conduct market survey, mobilize and inform buyers about the system.The surveyor identified some buyers and shared their contacts with the farmers.

Some of the buyers showed interest and, they were connected to the group. They got in touch and finally started sealing several transactions. The group has so far made great strides in marketing their produce. ‘‘We already have an established market connections in major towns like Nairobi, Nakuru, and Eldoret’’ said Mwangi, adding that had it not been for Sokopepe, him and his fellow farmers would still be struggling to make a living out of our work. 

He proudly talked of several connections he has made and only chooses the most suitable to sell their produce to. His most recent opportunities enhanced by sokopepe are the booming market of tomatoes in Nairobi. He recently supplied Nakuru town with water melons. 
A buyer in Nakuru has also opened an opportunity for him to market his supplies in Kisii town.
They have had connections to open air- markets, institutions and individual buyers. ‘‘This initiative has helped us to evade the middle-men by connecting farmers directly to the buyers’’ Mwangi said referring to Sokopepe

Mwangi is now asking farmers to visit the Ng'arua Maarifa Centre to get knowledge on how to use sokopepe service in marketing their produce. He is also requesting the Centre to inquire for them information about the farming of ‘moringa’ plants which they have heard much about it over the radio but have little knowledge on its cultivation.

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