ICT Innovations: With Mfarm, Agribusiness Meets the App Economy in Kenya
This is the first post in a new series about new information and communications technology (ICT) tools being used to improve agricultural outcomes. The ICT Innovations blog series is presented by USAID’s FACET project, based on profiles posted at ictforag.org.
MFarm is a software company that offers smallholder farmers in Kenya three vital services for accessing market information, maximizing yields, and securing fair returns for their crops.
How it works
Primary Markets: Kenya
Users: Currently, over 5,000 farmers and four bulk buyers are using MFarm in Kenya.
Fees: Users pay standard SMS rates
Implementer/Funder: MFarm has received grant funding from a number of sources to support implementation.
First, the MFarm platform provides price transparency and accuracy. It also enables collective crop selling and grouped input buying. MFarm is currently collecting wholesale market price information on 42 crops in five markets in Kenya. This pricing information is collected weekly through independent data collectors using geocoding to ensure that the prices are being collected from wholesale traders actually located in each market.
Here is where their model empowers the farmer in the process. Information on crops in a specific market can be requested either through a mobile Android application—now available through the Samsung Apps store—or by sending a request to an SMS short code. That ensures the farmer can strike a fair deal with wholesalers. Farmers can also use their mobile phones to join collectively in their area to sell crops to bulk buyers, or purchase farm inputs together. While somewhat nascent, the MFarm website also provides functionality to review wholesale prices.
MFarm has a variety of income streams. It receives a commission from bulk buyers who make purchases using their service. The organization also receives a portion of the SMS fees charged to users by the service provider and syndicates price information to local radio stations for a fee. While it remains to be seen if this model will enable them to become financially sustainable or scale to thousands more farmers, MFarm also plans to explore selling advertising and market information to larger businesses.
Farmers in the Kinangop region of Kenya have been able to receive more than double the price for certain types of produce through group selling, such as snow peas and sugar snap peas, than individual returns. Early feedback has revealed that access to current market information has created a transparent bargaining platform for farmers, but no independent impact assessment has yet been conducted.
For more information visit: http://mfarm.co.ke/
About the FACET project: USAID’s Fostering Agriculture Competitiveness Employing Information Communication Technologies (FACET) project works with implementing partners to provide technical assistance and knowledge sharing on the technologies that can make difference in competitiveness, trade, and quality of life in the agricultural sector in sub-Saharan Africa. For more information, contact program officer Josh Woodard.