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    Laikipia farmers delve into online trading with knowledge center

    A community knowledge centre in Laikipia West District has come to the rescue of the area farmers who have incessantly decried exploitation by middlemen in the sale of their commodities and lack of a ready market. Ng’arua Community knowledge centre also known as Maarifa centre which has been an initiative of Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN),  an International NGO that facilitates information and knowledge exchange  in arid lands communities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and the farmers, uses ICT to educate farmers and create a ready market for them through e commerce.

    Started in 2007, the community centre open doors to farmers to read agriculture books and learn the use of ICT free of charge. At an initial target of 2,000 farmers the community centre has managed to get 500 farmers on board. The NGO has gone ahead to successfully launch sokopepe, an online commodity exchange platform where farmers can get value for the produce that they deliver.

    Sokopepe is an integrated supply chain solution that collects agricultural commodity information from the field and disseminates it to end users via various media, including SMS, WAP, e-mail and the Web. It integrates a payment mechanism where users can pay for commodities through mobile money transfer.

    The process begins with farmers registering their produce on the website, through which their mobile contacts are availed to prospective buyers. Once a potential buyer comes across the goods on sale, a short text message is sent to the farmer who owns the produce, a process that effectively cut off the middleman.

    “All we are doing is to link an individual farmer with a potential buyer outside there. It is upon them to negotiate on the price and produce delivery,” says Mr Bett Kipsang,who is in charge of the centre. The farmers in the knowledge centre have reaped the benefits. Take Joram Mwathia, who before the centre was established, used to cycle 20 km to the nearby Sipii market to hawk his farm produce. Middlemen would buy one passion fruit from Mr. Mwathia at Ksh 1 selling it at Ksh 10 in the supermarkets and other bigger markets where they had easy access. In the last passion fruit season the 45 year old farmer got Sh 30,000 from passion fruit sales through the middlemen, forfeiting Sh. 90,000.

    Having joined the knowledge centre, Mwathia has managed to sell all the passion fruits in his two acre piece of land, with each passion fruit fetching between Kshs10-12. “I never dreamt of a day like this. I had become so used to the exploitation by the middlemen that I never thought my farm produce could fetch anything more.

    Now I get the motivation to tend to my farm because I know the buyer will want fresh and healthy produce if I am to maintain a relationship with them,” says Mr Mwathia who also grows orphan crops like sorghum, millet and climbing beans to beat the erratic weather conditions. He is also learning how to improve his farm produces through the internet, thanks to the ICT training that he has received in the knowledge centre. The success of sokopepe in Laikipia District has inspired ALIN to roll it out to other arid areas which it hopes to complete this year.

    “Nearly everyone owns a cell phone and through ICT farmers can reap maximum,” says Kipsang. Farmer-to-farmer exchange visits organized every month, where participants’ visits each other’s farms to learn new farming techniques, challenges and solutions to problems experienced has bolstered the theoretical classes that the farmers receive at the knowledge centre.

    The Laikipia landscape is a montage of crops- from groundnuts, pineapples, passion fruits bananas to millet cassava and coffee. Though erratic climate at times interfere with the yields farmers have frequently experienced a boom harvest but with nothing to show for it as they struggle to fetch good prices from exploitative middlemen.

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