Published on October 14th, 2012 | by Charu Suri7
In Kenya, Text Messages and Twitter are Paving the way for Fair Trade
Often associated with glamorous safaris and the raw wilderness of Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya is a country economically dependent on both tourism and agriculture. Only 8% of its land area is actually arable, but agriculture continues to remain a substantial income generator and job creator, and almost 75% of working Kenyans earn their living by farming.
I have a very close relationship to Kenya. As a child I lived in Nigeria and visited Kenya and fell in love with its hospitable people, raw landscape and incredible wildlife. My brother in law is Kenyan and his family lives on an unassuming farm not too far from Nairobi.
While agriculture and I are very distant cousins (I cannot mow a lawn even if my life depended upon it), I have the greatest respect for the back bending work that it entails, and recognize its importance in several developing countries. Agriculture is also the backbone of India, where I was born. Around 50% of the country’s workforce is in the agricultural sector, and India is the second largest exporter of farm goods in the world.
As a life-long vegetarian, I have given little thought to the plight of farmers, who wake up at the crack of dawn and work a full day in fields, tilling the soil and harvesting crops. We’re so used to having items show up at our local Whole Foods and Farmer’s Markets without paying attention to thinking about farmers’ profit margins, but all too often the smaller outfits can get short changed if he or she is not in a position to negotiate with retailers.
Farmers in Maasai land accessing information via basic phones.
They use the same to trade directly with market entities profitably.
As travelers to Kenya, we see little of the behind the scenes. The tools needed for farmers to produce high-grade output includes high-yield seeds, as well as financing. I was thrilled to discover how smart phones are shape shifting the agricultural landscape in Kenya. ZEVAN, the parent non-profit initiative of mFarmerKenya, is encouraging small-scale farmers to use their phone as a negotiation and communication tool; it’s their Staples EASY Button.
There are a plenty of farmers in Kenya waiting for a chance to improve their lives.
Out of 7 million small-scale farmers in Kenya, 4.6 million are reaping the juice of owning and negotiating through mobile phones, and the number is growing.
Farmers use feature phones to tweet or text to access market intelligence and gain fair price awareness from various retailers. They also gain market awareness and communicate directly with market entities and perform direct trading.
SOKOSHAMBANI team visiting farmers with micro-finance partners and the
In developing countries, putting power into the hands of the small scale workers ensures better standards of living and wages, while incentivizing them to create higher quality produce. The grooviest thing? Farmers receive orders for the supply of potatoes directly from market entities like fast food restaurants and potato processors. The Twitter handle functions beautifully as a negotiation channel, over which farmers can negotiate better prices.
If you take a look at some of the correspondence of Sokoshambani’s Twitter handle, @viazisouthrift, you’ll see something that looks a bit like gobbledygook to the layman (it’s in Swahili):
Kampuni ya Risper Chips hutengeneza chips ambazo huuziwa hoteli kuu Nairobi Kwa kila siku, itahitaji gunia 4 za viazi ya zangi za debe 12
This is an example of a Smallholder Farmer, tweeting to trade profitably. I can recognize the two words, Risper Chips, and Nairobi but the rest are still like braille to me. A quick Google Translate of this phrase yields the following:
Chips Risper company makes chips that are sold to major hotels in Nairobi For each day, you will require 4 sack of potatoes to the tin zangi 12
Another tweet directly to Chips Risper (@ChipsRisper) advises that they can buy potatoes directly from a small farmer at affordable prices. This is effective communication at its best. The success of this program is an opportunity for other countries to reach out to smaller-scale entrepreneurs to empower them with the tools to gain market intelligence.
When I heard about SokoShambani, a holistic program that enables small-scale potato farmers to carry out profitable potato farming, I was thrilled. This program not only provides communication possibilities with the big wigs, but also financing, high-yield seeds and training. It has a free SMS service to farmers.
The end result is a profit margin increase of 24 %, according to Stephen Kimiri, CEO of Zevan.
To get more involved, visit the mFarmerKenya site.