AgriFin Accelerate is a program implemented by Mercy Corps and supported by the MasterCard Foundation and aims to increase access to digital financial and informational services for one million farmers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia over the next six years. The program will also work towards increasing the volume and velocity of electronic payments, bundled with information services.
I decided to give it (digital marketing) a try after I saw it being advertised on television, and to my surprise it worked!” Says Cornelius Kiptoo, a 26 year old farmer from Metkei village, Uasin Gishu County, some 400 Kilometers from Nairobi, Kenya. Cornelius is a smallholder farmer who grows oats, potatoes, maize, and vegetables and also keeps dairy cows. In the past, he sold his farm produce to middlemen at his farm gate, and whereas he got paid instantly, it was often at a lower price.
In order to improve his gross revenue, he recently started advertising his farm produce on an online market place called OLX. “I took photos of my oats and posted them in the online market place and to my surprise, I got a buyer from the nearby town of Eldoret. This buyer gave me USD7.8 per bag of oats, which is a much better price than the USD6.0 that I used to get on my farm gate. Even with the cost of transport factored in, I still made a good profit, “adds Kiptoo.
Walter Cheboskwony is a farmer from the same village. He is a member of ‘Mkulima Young’ a social media platform encouraging young people to get into farming. Members of the platform share information on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Whatsapp and on a website. Walter uses the platform to gain new farming skills, market information, and exchange ideas with other members to improve his farming. “I am fully digital’, he says amid laughter from his village mates. He proudly shows off the smartphone he uses to access the platform.
Cornelius Kiptoo and Walter Cheboskwony are examples of local farmers in Kenya’s rural areas dispelling the notion held by many bankers, suppliers, and governments that African farmers are too poor, or illiterate and don’t have access to electronic gadgets and therefore they say it is difficult for farmers in developing countries to use social media as a tool for improving their farming. While it is true many Kenyan farmers, especially in Western Kenya, live on less than Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI) USD 2.50 a day and many may not even conceptualize social media, farmers like Cornelius and Walter are ardent users of digital platforms and use them to network, exchange information, market their products, get the market, advisory services, to make payments and purchase farm inputs.
Many Kenyan farmers are already active users of the world-renowned digital payment platform, M- Pesa. This is in part attributed to the mobile phone penetration in Kenya, nearing 80% (among the highest in the world) according to the Communications Authority of Kenya, and the convenience of using mobile money.
Mercy Corps AgriFin Accelerate program recently concluded an Ecosystem Study and a national representative Farmer Benchmark Study for Kenya and established that 39% of farmers interviewed in Central and Western Regions owned or had access to an internet-enabled phone. 13% of all farmers with phones (including basic phones) used their phones to access the internet while 34% of all farmers interviewed reported that they considered their phones as a tool they could use to access agricultural information through various channels. For instance, Anne Bett, a dairy farmer from Lessos Nandi County uses Whatsapp to network with other Dairy farmers. Together with her husband, they train and mentor other dairy farmers as part of a donor-funded dairy development project. The project leverages mobile phone technology for peer learning, building farmer capability, and knowledge sharing.
In addition, MNOs in Kenya have aggressively promoted the other digital platform – the internet. In the countryside, ‘cyber cafes’ have been branded to encourage rural folk to get onto the internet and use social media. Safaricom, Kenya’s largest MNO, has campaigns dubbed ‘Don’t sit there, get on to Google!’ and ‘Don’t tell me you are not on Facebook!”
The social media platforms on agriculture in Kenya vary in scope and usage. While some sites are general, others are specific to an agricultural value chain. We have dairy farmer groups, pig farmer groups, horticulture groups among others. Often, such platforms are driven by individuals who are passionate about farming. Other platforms are driven by the private sector; from agro-dealers, media houses to agricultural training institutions.
Wanja Farm is an active member of Digital Farmers Kenya, Facebook group with over 26,000 members who share farming ideas and latest technologies that can improve farming practices. The farm produces tomatoes among other crops in Rongai, about 21 Kilometers from Nairobi. The owner uses several Facebook forums mainly for marketing and shares tips with and answers questions posted by members.
Kukuchic, a business based in Eldoret, 300 Kilometers North West of Nairobi Kenya, is involved in marketing and selling indigenous day old chicks. It has a Facebook Page and Twitter Account, which it uses to market its products and announce marketing events. Farmers and interested parties can post questions on how to obtain chicken, share market information, and mobilize to attend marketing and educational events.
Frescho is a seed company with a Facebook Page and Twitter account which it uses as a marketing tool. Farmers post questions and exchange information on where to find appropriate seeds for their environment.
So far, no payments can be made on these sites and farmers have to pay in cash on collection of goods or via mobile Money transfers, rather than through merchant mobile payments products, which would be free for the payers, or with ATM debit cards.
Farmers are also sharing information on how to cope with climate change, a cross cutting concern for all farmers in all value chains. ‘Young Volunteers for the Environment’ is a group with about 3,000 members and posts updates on the latest news about the environment and climate change. It has helped the farmers to keep a tab on weather patterns and how to adjust their farming to cope with climate change. They use the data to know what and when to plant or harvest.
The extent of government extension service in Kenya, just as in many developing countries, has greatly reduced over the years, though almost 40% of farmers in our study reported preferring face-to-face interaction with government, cooperative, NGO, and private extension workers. This means that some farmers are not getting the information and skills they need to do their farming. They have had to come up with creative ways to communicate with other farmers and organizations to grow their farming businesses. Social media has begun to get a toehold to help remedy the situation. AFA will watch this interesting and exciting trend.
Lucy Kioko, Agriculture Manager AgriFin Accelerate Program, Mercy Corps.