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Tech entrepreneur unlocks markets for poor farmers

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Jamila Abass, founder of M-farm, an agriculture portal that helps farmers sell their produce. PHOTO | COURTESY

Jamila Abass, founder of M-farm, an agriculture portal that helps farmers sell their produce. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By SARAH OOKO, sooko@ke.nationmedia.com

Posted  Monday, April 6   2015 at  17:26

As an avid reader, Jamila Abass came across many stories of challenges facing Kenya’s agricultural sector, from food insecurity to farmers earning little from their produce.

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What concerned her was how manufacturing companies and retailers struggled to get adequate supplies from farms and farmers lacked markets.

Ms Abass who studied computer software engineering decided to use her information technology skills to connect farmers to buyers directly, cutting out the middlemen who offer low prices.

With her two friends, the 30-year-old developed a business plan for an online agricultural portal that sought to close the information gap between the farmers and the market.

In 2010, they won a Sh1,000,000 (€10,000) capital investment prize at the IPO48 competition—a two-day boot camp aimed at giving technology enthusiasts a platform to launch their web or mobile start-ups.

Their start-up emerged top out of the 37 participants. With the money, the trio founded the M-farm Company in 2011, where Ms Abass is currently the chief executive officer (CEO).

The company runs an online platform dubbed M-farm that now boasts of over 10,000 registered farmers from 100 in 2011.

Through the portal, the company is able to organise farmers into groups allowing them to fetch competitive prices by selling in bulk.

“If each person works alone, it becomes hard to access markets or attract big buyers looking for volumes of farm produce,” she said.

Due to the connection they have with farmers through the M-farm platform, Ms Abass notes that they are able to monitor their crop cycle and predict how much each group will harvest, making it possible to easily link them to markets.

M-farm has turned into a success, signing contracts with exporting firms and local companies such as Fresh and Crips, and Naivas supermarkets.

“They give us orders. We buy from our farmers’ groups and deliver the farm produce to the companies. Then the companies pay us a commission fee,” she said. (WATCH VIDEO)

Since low yields and poor quality produce are major contributors to losses incurred by small-scale farmers, the M-farm platform educates farmers on new agricultural technologies and tips for growing various crops that meet market demands.

“Farmers can also get in touch through the platform or by mobile phone to seek solutions for unique farming challenges that may be bothering them,” she said.

M-farm also provides up-to-date market prices through an app or SMS, direct to farmers at a cost. The prices help farmers make decisions on which markets to target.

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