Farmers reap big from digital marketing portal

Tuesday September 12 2017

Farmers are now turning parts of their farms under maize or wheat into pasture-growing fields to guarantee year-round food supply for their animals. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Farmers are now turning parts of their farms under maize or wheat into pasture-growing fields to guarantee year-round food supply for their animals. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

By JAMES NGUNJIRI
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Over 3,000 small-scale farmers across Kenya are now accessing 17 markets across the globe, in an elaborate arrangement that has embraced technology to correct major hiccups in the agricultural value chain.

This is by pointing growers to ripe and lucrative markets, taming post-harvest losses while connecting buyers to ready produce that meets international standards.

The model, spearheaded by a fresh produce start-up called Selina Wamucii, has courted mobile phones and the internet to pool together 3,156 farmers cumulatively growing 48 produce types ranging from fruits such as avocados and mangoes, vegetables including snow peas, herbs such as basil and chives on 9,152 acres.

This is just in two years since the company was formed, positioning itself to be the single largest provider of fresh produce in Africa, without owing an inch of land.

The model is solving farmers’ poor earning problems, lack of steady market, difficulties in meeting market-driven standards, inconsistent volumes and inefficient logistics.

And with the majority of small growers cultivating an average 2.9 acres of land, Selina Wamucii’s focus is geared towards choice of high value crops that would deliver better farm gate prices and ensure farmers in close proximity plant the same crops for ease of aggregation and service delivery.

The model has been described as timely, coming at a time when numerous studies have found that there are dismal farm gate returns and poor quality of produce that doesn’t meet international standards.

Also, post-harvest losses that now account for 50 per cent of produce from farms are responsible for locking out small scale farmers from accessing markets.

“Our tech-based model now heralds a new era of farming where our farmers will be able to practice smart farming. This is a refreshing departure from the guesswork farming that has troubled millions of smallholder farmers here in Kenya and across the African continent,” said Mr John Oroko, co-founder of Selina Wamucii and the company’s chief operating officer.

“We’ll utilise the mobile phone, big data, artificial intelligence and the internet of things to transform Africa’s smallholder farming into a profitable business for all farmers in our system,” said Mr Oroko.
Technology has become a crucial enabler of socio-economic development mainly through reduced transaction costs and enhanced efficiency in connectivity.

Deciding on what farmers will plant and when it is harvested is based on real time data and guided by market forces.

To become part of the network, farmers sign up for a Selina account either on the Selina Web-based platform named Growersoft or on mobile phone via USSD.

The system captures information relating to the geographical locations of small scale farmers, what they are producing, the various stages of progress throughout the season, harvest timelines, projections and actual volumes at harvest.

This information makes it easy to estimate expected volumes in a year for different produce, which then enables buyers around the world to plan in advance.

It also means that a small scale farmer has the market secured by the time they harvest.

The system streamlines the sourcing process, making it faster and less expensive with digitised traceability.

Buyers, on the other hand, specify what they want and are guaranteed consistent quality, fair price and volumes.

Gathering market data has also assisted the company understand market dynamics allowing it to make reliable projections and avoiding uncertainties along the entire chain that would affect farmer earnings.

“We noticed that our Hass avocados, which are very popular in the European market gain roughly 60 grammes or so every week while on the tree after onset of the season and a delay in harvesting by three weeks leads to a larger fruit that better meets market requirements.”

“Since it is slightly bigger with a higher percentage oil content, and enters the market when the avocado season in Spain’s province of Malaga has just ended, leading to a very good market reception”,  said Mr Samuel Wanyoike, the company’s head of production.

The Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) in a recent brief urged the government to train farmers on technology-led appropriate farming methods.

It called for promotion of commercialisation and value addition to boost productivity and develop the sector.