Saturday, 14 January 2012

Text Message Services Improve Agriculture in Kenya

Lack of reliable market information is one of the major factors that prevent farmers from getting the full market value for their farm produce. Small-scale farmers in Kenya and most African countries traditionally lack timely information, on market trends and market prices to enable them negotiate the best transactions. Unfortunately, lack of access to market information creates an opportunity for farmer’s exploitation by the middlemen. Today farmers in kenya have a reason to smile as this situation is changing, with development of text messages service innovations for the farming industry. An example is Kenya’s SMS Sokoni project, which provides agricultural information through short text messaging for fee. The project is run by the Kenya Agricultural Commodities Exchange (KACE), a private firm, in partnership with African mobile service provider Safaricom Limited. KACE information centers are located near agricultural commodity markets to ensure low cost access to farmers. KACE workers collect information on prices from these centers and then send the information to the farmers, buyers and exporters through SMS.

SMS sokoni text messages project’s partnership with a mobile service provider has allowed wider coverage of the service. This has also helped to reduce the cost of text messages. Sokoni SMS text messaging service is popular among farmers, buyers and exporters. The entry costs and unit costs for the users are quite low as a result of subsidy from donors. SMS sokoni text messages service users get value for their fees and their earnings have doubled or even triple according to research, because of access to timely text message market information. However there is a major challenge ahead of sokoni SMS text messages service in that it may not be sustainable with the pull out of donor funds, as most of the farmers live below the poverty line, and they may not afford the full pay for the text messages information service. 
M-Farm  is also a farmers text messages service from MFarm Ltd. Kenyan farmers simply SMS the service number to get information concerning the retail price of their products, buy farm inputs directly from manufacturers at favorable prices, and find buyers for their produce.
Drumnet is yet another text messages service which has been in operation in central Kenya on pilot basis. DrumNet provides marketing, financial and information services to farmers through text messages. This service is still developing more products for enhancement of agriculture industry.

Other African countries have various agriculture information systems, like the word of mouth system employed in Cambodia for information flow between agriculture value chain players. However, a study conducted by Michael Roberts in 2006 realized that such information may be prejudiced, since the source of information is interested in the transaction. Therefore the users require confirmation of the credibility of the information through physical visits to markets or with neighbors. However, Cambodia-Canada Agricultural Market Information Project (CAMIP) initiative is presently operational in Cambodia. CAMIP project is a unique text messages service which also trains farmers to improve their capacity to use the information, through Farmer Marketing Schools (FMS).