Doing business, and more so conducting profitable business in the 21st Century without the use of technology can be quite tough.
John Kinyua grew up witnessing his parents suffer huge losses from their banana crop due to lack of proper marketing channels. This motivated him to invent an app in 2014 that links farmers with the market. The app started as a basic SMS and USSD service.
The platform named Mkulima Bora is aimed at ensuring farmers get a proper platform that links them with the market. According to Kinyua, an app was the missing link for the farmers to break even.
The android app that can be downloaded from Google play store allows farmers to download, register, and access unique features such as buying and selling, a factor that gives farmers a significant competitive edge.
In developing the app, the computer science graduate from Chuka University ensured that with just a click of a button, farmers had access to credible and timely information regarding the market and market trends. This thus offered farmers direct timely information and feedback.
With direct communication, middlemen were done away with, as traders could directly communicate with their customers. The direct communication saved farmers from exploitation from brokers, who would purchase their produce at throwaway prices and sell them at a huge profit.
Over the years the platform has enlisted farmers and now has 2000 registered users. On social media, the platform has over 13,000 users and an average of 200 users per day.
The innovation has received support from Mt Kenya Hub by helping the firm reach out to partners and community-based organisations in Nyeri and the surrounding counties.
“Innovation forums and workshops that address emerging technologies have also been a major boost to Mkulima Bora’s value chain. Mt Kenya Hub has been at the forefront in engaging young talented people who have much potential. The hub’s mandate of nurturing such young talent has further enabled Mkulima Bora to benefit by hiring skilled talent,” Mr Kinyua says.
The innovator makes money by charging a subscription fee of Sh50 weekly or 150 monthly. New users are given a grace period of six months before they start subscribing.
The platform also hosts a library that has over 200 E-Books, books written by qualified professionals.
“The books can be purchased by farmers to access quality information,” Mr Kinyua explains.
The platform keeps 40 percent of the income generated from the sales made from e-books.
The firm's employees include developers, content creators, marketers, and trainees who are on-boarded based on skill as opposed to academic papers because most of their services are technical.
To enhance its effectiveness, the app has a unique feature: an Artificial Intelligence app (AI) that not only acts as a shopping app but also outlines consumer behaviour and interests. This provides farmers with the right market for their produce. The app is further linked to other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, increasing the target market for farmers.
“When a farmer posts his or her products via the short message service (SMS), the product is channeled through social media, hence connecting the farmer to the global market,” says the innovator.
“With mobile devices being an integral part of most individuals' lives, a mobile app offers the best communication speed possible, and is more reliable and convenient.”
The app has been tested in Malawi in partnership with Concern Worldwide and was able to offer subsidies to farmers through digital e-voucher services, where they served over 15,000 farmers in one month. This happened in two consecutive years, in 2016 and in 2017.
The invention however faces a number of challenges. For instance, it’s hard connecting some small-scale farmers to the market with customers who are geographically far from the farmers’ vicinity. Also, some of the services offered require an internet connection, and some farmers are not connected.
Mr Kinyua’s dream is to build the app to be a complete value chain for farmers while linking them up with the international market.
He says young people have ideas that need to be tapped to solve society’s myriad challenges.
“The many ideas the young people possess need to be directed towards creating solutions ideal for the markets, and which solve both economic and social problems,” he says.