April 18, 2011

Kenyan farmers use SMS to beat climate-driven price uncertainty

KEmfarm510.jpeg Changing climatic conditions have disrupted market patterns. “It is no longer as predictable as it was,” says William Muriuki, a 73-year-old farmer in Kenya. “We have to physically identify places with high demand.” AlertNet reports.

quotemarksright.jpgIn these challenging conditions, Muriuki and his farming colleagues have turned to technology to help them find the right market.

Standing on his farm, Muriuki pulls a mobile phone from his pocket to compose a text message. He writes the word ‘price’, followed by ‘cabbage’, then the place name ‘Embu’, and sends it to 3535. Almost immediately, he receives a reply stating: “Cabbage Ext Bag 126kg selling at Ksh400 in Embu as of 2011-04-01.”

This tells him that a standard bag of cabbage, weighing about 126 kilos, has been selling for 400 Kenyan shillings ($5) in Embu town for the past week.

Muriuki composes a similar message, substituting ‘Nairobi’ for Embu. The response tells him the same quantity of cabbage is selling at 2,100 shillings ($26.26) in the Kenyan capital - more than five times the price in Embu.

“Now all I need to do is to calculate the cost of transportation to Nairobi, and the cost of transportation to Embu, and differentiate in order to identify the market that is likely to give me more profit,” says Muriuki. Sending each text message costs 10 shillings (around 12 US cents).

“Identification of the appropriate market for our farm produce has been the biggest challenge in the recent past,” explains the farmer. “But now, technology is slowly and surely liberating us.”quotesmarksleft.jpg

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