Connecting farmers a click at a time

It was in the year 2010 when Susan Oguya, Linda Kwamboka and Jamila Abass were at iHub, an innovative centre for app developers so they could help small scale farmers sell their crops through simple mobile phones. The youthful ladies launched the digital start-up after winning the IPO48 competition – a 48-hour boot-camp event aimed at giving web and mobile start-ups a platform to launch their businesses. Of the 37 initial ideas, M-Farm took away $10, 000 prize that they used as capital investment.

LindaAlthough they all have strong backgrounds in Information and Technology, the trio brings on the table different skills and fresh potential to ignite growth of a high impact venture called M-Farm Limited, the company behind M-Firm mobile phone application. Abass from North Eastern Kenya flew into this entrepreneurship area after quitting her job as Medical Records Systems developer from African Virtual University. Kwamboka on the other hand, cut her teeth in Business & Information Technology at Strathmore University and Focuses her energy in understanding their users, product marketing, development and sales.

To this lot, Agribusiness supply chain efficiency is the key to enriching farmers commercial activities and reduce food wastage – farmers use M-Farm Business Intelligence systems to decide on their produce pricing, marketplace to trade directly with the market, virtual co-operative community for peer –to –peer learning and advisory information, especially proven trusted information among each other, and from veteran farmers and experts. As more and more Kenyans shift to exploiting the enormous potential of Agriculture sector, M-Farm is angling for the party. The firm’s mobile app is proving to be the best solution currently boasting of over 22,000 users with the numbers projected to multiply by next year. In 2012, the app was used across 16 regions in the country. In five years, the high growth enterprise has continued to shape Agribusiness gradually bringing electronic commerce closer to farmers who pay fee of Sh800 to subscribe to the service. One of the co-founders, Ms Kwamboka, says that they have had it right all along as far as nurturing growing demand of buyers and sellers of agriculture products is concerned. “Identify a need that can be solved through innovative technologies including software solutions. Then build a product that your customers find value in and they can use,” she says. A part from being among the top 25 SMEs in Africa according to a research by Infodev, the venture is already working with over 22,000 farmers with its presence very strong in Mombasa, Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret, Nakuru… “We have made it (the service) affordable to farmers so that they are able to use it as much as they can,” Kwamboka points out, adding that the one thing she can share with someone who is interested in developing technology products and solutions is to be a keen listener, and start with understanding how best one solution can be offered by testing with your users consistently and getting feedback, what she affirms “will help you improve and offer the ultimate value your customers want.” It didn’t take them long to partner with giants like Samsung and M-PESA Foundation. Worthy to note is the M-Pesa partnership which truly allows the company to process mobile payments on the back end with the aim of not only sending out market prices but also the much needed information to users. Virtually all the information that you would really need including market prices and market in split seconds of pressing a mobile button. “I’m very happy about the price application because this is something farmers have needed for a long time. They simply use short message system to get information pertaining to the wholesale price of their products, interact with input suppliers directly, and get connected to buyers for their produce. We don’t come up with the prices… We collect them from farmers, then we make them available on the website, through sms or downloadable application that is android based,” says Kwamboka. She says AgTech is an exciting industry to be in, though Agribusiness is an expensive to successfully carry out. Technology makes it easier to offer solutions, a true realisation is the actual value delivered, which the public – private sector partnerships will help create a greater impact. More investment has to be made on production for consistency in supplies to the markets we are serving. Government subsidies will go along way to encourage irrigation for year round production and investment in greenhouses by farmers for horticulture. Some of the marketing tools they use aside from radio and TV stations include online media like twitter, facebook – and the M-Farm online portal, on www.mfarm.co.ke. Field visits and conversations with farmers have also played a great role in peer to – peer introduction of farmers to their platform. Since many farmers do not have access to Internet, M-Farm has adopted an SMS-based solution where they send a simple text to 20255 to query for prices or other services they would like.

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