Friday, June 17, 2016

Small-scale farmers go online to find market for their produce

By Agnes Aboo
Small -scale farmers in Meru County have adopted an online platform to monitor and find markets for their produce.
Sokopepe Limited, a social enterprise supporting the agricultural sector in Kenya by offering market information and farm records management services, operates the online platform.
Martin Murangiri, Sokopepe officer explaining how Sokopepe works
The company has two services namely; Farm Records Management Information System (Farmis) and SOKO+ which helps farmers keep online farm records and get market for their produces.
Farmis is a farm management and diagnostic tool based on the use of farm records. It was developed by diverse stakeholders in the agriculture sector and is aimed at identifying productivity trends, profitability of different farm enterprises and producing evidence for use in decision making at the farm, county and national levels.
Farmis is based on the idea that with farm records a farmer or other stakeholders can access to various reports, which highlight husbandry practices, market trends, weather conditions and on-farm challenges.
Risk assessment
It is used in risk assessment, insurance, extension, and access to finances. Due to its ability to aggregate reports and analyses, one can also carry out bulk marketing of farmers’ produce.
These reports include production (yield, identification of profitable lines), market reports (farm gate prices) and profit and loss accounts used when making decisions.
On the other hand, SOKO+ provides commodity prices from major markets around the areas of operation and beyond. SOKO+ is designed to address transactions and extension needs along the entire value chain from farm inputs to the buyer of the final products.
This enhances farmers’ incomes whereby they by-pass numerous brokers. The reason is that farmers reduce their transaction costs, and through commodity aggregation, they have more negotiating power for better prices, bulk discounting of inputs and further reach desirable markets.
The programme was started in 2014 and today more than 7,000 small scale farmers have embraced the technology which they say is working well for them.
Most of the farmers in the programme have access to bigger markets after being trained on how to use the online farm record management system.
The company’s field team leader Martin Murangiri said the platform is meant to help small scale farmers embrace IT as a way of monitoring the progress of their produce.
“Many farmers live in poverty because they do not understand how to manage their farming records, which leads to losses after every harvest season,” said Mr Murangiri.
Farmers pay a Sh500 annual fee for the services. They are advised on the kind of crops to plant and the type of fertilisers to use each planting season.
Farmers in Tigania West, Buuri, Imenti North, Imenti Central and Imenti South sub counties have adopted the online platform. Mr Murangiri said that they hope to train more Meru County farmers by the end of this year.
He said that with the record keeping system farmers can easily access loans from banks and other government institutions and get market information from different areas.
“With the online system, farmers get messages on their mobile phones indicating the prices of different commodities in markets countrywide.
“We are designing another application which will help farmers to get prices of commodities in local markets in Meru,” he added. Farmer Fredrick Kinoti said that he used to mak loses before he started using the online record keeping system.
“I farm a variety of crops like maize, beans and coffee alongside animal keeping. Before I was introduced to the system I could not pay for my children’s school fees due to huge loses. Since I started using this system I can comfortably pay school fees and earn profit too,” said Mr Kinoti.
He added that before he started keeping records he used to harvest two to three bags of maize but after the new system he harvests up to 15 bags from his two-acre land.
Another farmer, Jane Nturibi, said that she plants maize, sorghum, mangoes, beans and peas on her five-acre piece of land.
“I am a beneficiary of the Sokopepe initiative. I hope that by the next two years I will have developed more, courtesy of Sokopepe,” she said.
The farmers urged their colleagues to adopt the new technology, which will help them earn more.
Gakii Marango, an agricultural extension officer in Mwanganthia Ward, said that many small-scale farmers were literate and that expansion of the technology to remote areas would help them earn more.
“Farmers do not know the importance of keeping records but if the programme is introduced to them they will learn its importance,” she said.

The Daily Nation previously published this article in its original version on April 21, 2016.  Access the original article here
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