It’s been known for quite some time that the Global South’s, and its people’s, biggest hindrance is not legacies of colonialism or anesthetizing malaise but a lack of substantive trade opportunities caused by an inability to access global markets on any meaningful scale. So when we hear about endeavors like M-Farm, where developing-world entrepreneurs use available technologies to create meaningful trade opportunities for themselves and their compatriots — we should damn well pay attention.
By connecting local and often remote farmers in M-Farm creators’ Jamila Abass and Susan Eve Oguya’s native Kenya, they allow farmers to connect themselves with other farmers and global markets. Sort of a virtual farmers collective. M-Farm leverages SMS-text technology to easily connect small-scale farmers with information critical to succeeding in the global market; information that includes the current regional prices of particular crops and information on farmer collective bargaining for aggregate selling. What this information technology translates into for Kenyan farmers is an ability to use a technology they can afford, their cellphones, to cut out the profit-leeching, inconsistent middlemen. “On a daily-basis about lack of transparency in the market, having middlemen as their only channel of selling their produce, as well as high costs of farm inputs,” points out Abass. Many of these ‘middlemen’ were originally in-person-based farmer collectives that spun out of control (read: corruption) due to lack of regulation and transparency.
“The use of technology in the agricultural sector is still a young and not-so-mature concept,” says Abass. “Most small scale farmers are still below the poverty line because they lack the information necessary to empower them.”
The M-Farm technology builds on the basics concepts of companies like America’s Farmigo, another software-based technology connecting small, often organic farmers with consumers, but M-Farm has scaled down the solution to work across non-internet-capable devices.
iCow is another Kenya-based technology initiative supporting entrepreneurial farmers that is worth mentioning. This SMS-based platform, from entrepreneur and agriculturalist Su Kahumbu, also supports remote, low-tech farmers by offering them on-demand information on their mobiles about critical information like new livestock diseases, livestock feeding practices and critical gestation information. The software also allows for distance-spanning veterinarian connections. The iCow platform has already been rolled out to cover 80% of Kenya and in record time thanks to the existing availability of SMS technology.
Perhaps the next key move for these Kenyan startups will be to adopt a more Farmigo-like approach to their technology and introduce a two-sided push/pull strategy that includes access to consumers looking to connect directly with small farmers.