A major problem for smallholder farmers is the lack of access to timely and accurate market information. Their only source of information about the market rate for crops comes from the very people who are trying to buy them. The lack of pricing transparency means that most farmers do not always get the best deal.
Improving market access for smallholders often leads to increased income and food security leading to poverty alleviation. In some parts of Laikipia County particularly Sipili area of Ol-Moran Ward, some farmers have started realizing the power of improved market access.
The farmers are utilizing SOKO+ innovation being implemented by Sokopepe. The digital commodity trading and information system, linking small scale farmers to end retailers/bulk purchasers of produce.
It provides commodity prices from major markets around the areas of operation and beyond, e-extension services and a listing of various technical and logistical support providers.
SOKO+ has harnessed the power of information and communication technologies by enabling farmers to efficiently reach and exploit a fair market for their produce.
Most transactions can be completed on a basic mobile telephone handset, making it accessible to farmers in remote locations, many of whom do not own internet-linked mobile phones.
Mrs. Veronica Kemunto, Secretary, Laikipia Produce and Marketing Co-operative Society noted that most farmers of the cooperative have been using the platform to query for market prices particularly cereals. She has been using the service since august 2013.
“SOKO+ has really enlightened me. This days I can query for market prices in major towns through sms. I am now enlightened as I know where to take my produce once I have harvested. The service has connected producers directly with buyers,” said Mrs. Kemunto.
SOKO+ is designed to address transactions and extension needs along the entire value chain – from farm inputs to the buyer of the final products – thus enhancing the space of the farmer, by-passing the numerous brokers between the farmer and end consumer.
On his part, Mr. Peter Gicheru, Secretary Matwiku Horticulture Growers self- help group said that most farmers have been able to take advantage of the widespread use of mobile phones to access market information through short messaging system (sms).
Mr. Gicheru through his group have been using SOKO+ to query for market prices and once they have found a good market they usually aggregate their produce and send to the market.
“We have been able to find suitable markets for our cereals and horticulture through the service. We usually compare prices in major towns before deciding on the best market for our produce. SOKO+ has really benefited us, we can no longer accept to be exploited by brokers,” said Mr. Gicheru.
The net effect of use of the service is that farmers can reduce their transaction costs, and through commodity aggregation they can have more power for negotiation for better prices, bulk discounting of inputs and further reach into desirable markets.
The system allows farmers to receive text messages of the prevailing market prices for various products in towns like Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret, Nakuru, Mombasa and Malindi. One can also query for farming tips on various products like dairy farming, poultry, fish farming, cereals, horticulture, goat farming, apiculture and roots and tubers.
Through SOKO+ a farmer can access market prices for cereals, legumes, roots and tubers as well as horticulture. The platforms directory listing has traders, veterinary officers, extension officers, research and quality control, transporters, financial service providers and feed manufacturers.
To register to SOKO+; Send SMS: REG#IDNumber#FirstName#LastName#County, to 20245 (Wait for confirmation message to activate your account): to receive market prices; Send SMS: Price#Commodity#Town, to 20245; and to get farming tips, Send SMS: Tip#ProductName to 20245.