Friday, October 12, 2012

Farmers explore collective marketing through ICT

   By Bett Kipsang'

  Farmer representatives in Sipili resolved to form a Producer and Marketing Organization (PMO), Wednesday. The farmer organization is aimed at supporting ALIN’s online marketing initiative through Sokopepe. The resolution was reached during a market access meeting organized by the Ng’arua Maarifa Centre on 10th/10/2012, at the chief’s office in Sipili.  Members of sipili stakeholder forum attended the meeting.
Participants follow meeting proceedings
 The mission of ALIN is to improve the livelihoods of arid lands communities in East Africa through delivery of practical information using modern technologies. Mobile phone technology, is in this case a convenient means through which farmers can access market information contrary to the current trend where brokers set prices for commodities during harvest seasons.  
The meeting was attended by 30 participants (17- Male and 13- Female) comprising group leaders, Agricultural officers, Wangwachi chief Mr. Paul Nasky, and Stephen Munguti of SACDEP. 

Participants unanimously resolved to expedite the process of mobilizing like minded farmers to support the initiative. They also agreed that the PMO should be up and running before the peak harvest season due in a month’s time, this was accelerated by the huge Argo-marketing challenges faced by farmers each season.
 Participants heard that last year, ALIN through a marketing consultant, facilitated commodity testing for quality assurance. One maize sample was approved by a Nakuru maize miller and the other sample was rejected due to poor quality. 

The Miller latter offered a price of Kenya shillings three thousand one hundred (Ksh 3,100) which was eight hundred shillings higher than the local market. In spite of that, farmers we unable to deliver their produce to the miller due to lack of timely Co-ordination, poor quality, lack of awareness and suspicion.

Mr. Paul Nasky the chief of Wangwachi location promised full support in mobilizing farmers in the division. He gave an assurance that his office will make every effort to mobilize all cereals traders to attend capacity building meetings in future and learn about the SMS system with a view of discouraging them from lowering prices. His sentiments were echoed by the Divisional Agricultural Officer Mr. James Kamau.  

 Farmers were shown how to query for commodity prices through SMS by typing: (price#crop i.e. maize#location i.e. Kisumu then send to 3227). The meeting became interactive and participatory as everyone took out a mobile phone to try out the system. 

The SMS's started streaming within a few minutes. Mr. David C. Maina reported the feedback on his phone showing a price of Ksh 4,400 per 90 kg of maize in Kisumu. Peter Muturi reported that green maize sold at Ksh 2,700 in Nakuru. The messages also showed dry maize sold at Ksh 3,800 in Nairobi. With this information, farmers are likely to make a profit of between Ksh 1,600 and Ksh 2,200, if they were to deliver their Maize to Nairobi and Kisumu.  

 The information flowing into the mobile phones elevated the spirit of farmers who saw the importance of forming a common marketing platform. Laikipia west is expecting plentiful harvest of maize this season and prices are already shooting down, a bag of 90Kg is now going at Ksh 2,300 down from 3,500 a few months ago.

Participants were challenged to think broadly and explore ways of finding access to better markets instead of having to sell their produce at throw away prices while middlemen bulk the produce and latter sell at better prices due to the economies of scale. The farmers agreed that they were capable of marketing their crops after accessing updated market information through Sokopepe system.  

The latter did an analysis of opportunities at their disposal which they can utilize for their empowerment and concluded that Sipili had some key strengths that can propel them to great economic heights. 

Existence of an organized stakeholder’s forum in Sipili division, has seen farmers come together to chart the way forward. The forum comprises NGO’s, government departments and several farmer groups. 

ALIN has brought in the use of ICTs to access market prices while the Sipili Cereal Bank, a self help group, has offered to cereals from farmers until  prices stabilize. 

It was reported that the government has provided a maize drier to ensure farmers meet the required quantities. Sipili cereal bank has acquired a moisture-meter for testing the moisture content in maize before storage.

Farmers suggested that the new PMO, should explore ways in which a micro-finance institution can be identified to facilitate advance payment for the cereals stored to enable farmers to run their errands as they wait for prices to shoot up. The steering committee was tasked to explore all possible ways of creating networks which are beneficial to the farmers.

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