Online produce-trading platform to connect farmers and buyers

The MFarms platform will ease access to market information, like produce prices. / File

Many small farmers usually sell their produce at give away prices due to lack of market information. The middlemen often take advantage of this to buy produce at low prices even when the prevailing market prices are higher. This has affected farmers’ morale leading to low productivity and decline in household income. However, this could soon be history, thanks to a new online produce-trading platform that seeks to connect farmers and buyers.

Developed in Ghana, MFarms is an innovative mobile and web-based platform that will also link farmers and other players within the agricultural value chain, easing management and communication of market data, including prices. This platform will supplement gains by MFarms application launched in Rwanda in 2013 to help agro-dealers manage and streamline the farm input trade, especially fertilisers.

The Android mobile phone operated application was touted for its accuracy and data recording ability, improving agro-dealer operations. It also aimed at helping the traders to develop efficient and competitive fertiliser procurement and distribution systems across the country.

Boost market linkages

Bentil Kwame Adom, the Magead MFarms Ghana chief executive officer, said the new platform will improve operational efficiency, communication and viable linkages within the agricultural value chain thereby further unlocking the potential of the sector. In an interview with The New Times, Adom said smallholder farmers do not access better markets because they lack timely information.

“They say information is power and relevant information can go a long way in making the right decisions. However, agribusiness in Africa and Rwanda, in particular, still lags behind because farmers don’t access key information to support and drive their businesses in the right direction,” Adom, who is the brain behind the invention, said. He added that the platform will also link farmers with input and output market services.

“The platform consists of many applications built to solve challenges facing various players within the sector,” he noted.

Monitoring farmer activities

According to Jeanne Nyaruyongo, the MFarms country manager, the new platform provides tools that allow service providers and banks to track the services they offer farmers.

“It also allows organisations and absentee farmers to monitor extension services provided by field agents thus help enhance production.”

She added that the tool enables farmers communicate directly with agro-dealers, manage supply, orders and stock forecasts, as well as sales and returns.

“Rwanda and Africa needs a service that links buyers to sellers, enabling them to exchange market information or to find market for their produce in real time to grow its agriculture sector,” Geoffrey Nsanzamahoro, an agronomist in Nyagatare District, noted.

Farmers skeptical

Meanwhile, three years after the first initiative was launched some farmers still express concerns of delayed supply of farm inputs. Grace Uwamahirwe, a farmer in Rulindo District, said limited knowledge affects implementation and usage of such platforms.

“The people behind these innovations need to always carry out awareness drive to educate and explain to farmers on how to use the technology works. Otherwise, it won’t help and the old challenges will continue to affect rural farmers,” she said.

How it works

Any farmer with a smartphone can download the app free of charge. After it is installed, the farmer can access price information of the previous five days for 42 crops in the five markets. The mobile app also provides monthly analysis of crop prices in different markets to show price trends, enabling farmers to make informed decisions on what to plant when, how to price their produce and the available markets.

Adom said agents use the platform to give farmer groups financial advice, as well as work with agronomists on the ground to guide farmers on how to grow marketable and high-value crops.

“Our extensive network of agents collects and verifies prices to ensure its accuracy. The information is then sent to farmers instantly as an SMS or voice message on their phones. Clients using the web portal can view more detailed information and trends in prices in different locations,” said Nyaruyongo.

The service also provides weather information on farm lands to ascertain whether rainfall is adequate, crop health and forecasting of rainfall. This service is being provided in collaboration with NASA.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources fertiliser programme is currently collaborating with the International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC) to incorporate the application with already existing systems to further boost competitiveness.

Government targets to achieve at least 8.5 per cent growth rate for the agriculture sector by 2018 from current 6.5 per cent.

Agriculture sector grew by one per cent and contributed 0.4 percentage points to the overall GDP growth, during the third quarter of 2016.

Peterson Tumwebaze

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.