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Technology

How cellphone has enabled farmers connect to markets

Grant Brooke, Peter Njonjo
Twiga Foods founder Grant Brooke [L] with CEO Peter Njonjo in Nairobi. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG 

For Rufus Kimanthi, a banana farmer in Meru, the brokers’ menace had for ages been a challenge he always had to contend with whenever his crops matured and were ready for the market. On every such occasion, the large-scale banana farmer — who largely relied on customers from Moyale, Nairobi and Mombasa — to buy his harvest, had to go through brokers to have his produce bought by the consumers.

And the brokers’ involvement in the transactions came with its own challenges. He constantly made a far lower profit than he anticipated.

“Sometimes the brokers would come into the farm, even in my absence, and harvest the bananas the customer required. Time and again then, they harvested more than they should, but as I am just an ordinary farmer, one usually has no much say in such situations,” says Mr Kimanthi.

The situation was never different for Jacob Mwirigi, another banana farmer in the same county.

Other than benefitting the brokers in the arrangement, Mr Mwirigi says time and again thieves would strike in the dead of the night and demand the money he had been paid for the bananas.

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The two farmers’ predicaments, encapsulate those of thousands of such farmers in the county known for its agricultural productivity, especially in bananas.

This was, however, until Twiga Foods came into the picture.

The firm which delivers fresh produce to small-scale retailers, including vegetable vendors, and finances small-to-medium-scale farmers, sought to bridge this gap between farmers and the buyers of their produce.

Through Twiga Foods, the two, among other farmers in the area have now been able to access markets for their bananas and afforded prompt payments for their supplies through their mobile phones.

Initially, the company registers the farmers’ details including their names, mobile phone number, farm location’s coordinates, the produce they grow, and the volumes they can supply, says Cassandra Kiereini, the Project and Growth Manager at Twiga Foods.

The farmers just deliver their produce to their nearby aggregation sites, then Twiga Foods collects and distributes the bananas to traders in Nairobi and pays the farmers through mobile money transfer.

“We have a team of scouts visiting the prospective farms assessing requirements such as the type of produce the farm has to offer, the volumes it can generate and the frequency among other factors,” she says.

Once a farmer’s data is loaded in the firm’s system it is used to identify and locate the farmers especially during harvest time, according to Kenneth Mutua, who is an Aggregation Centre Manager in Meru, where the farm produce is collected before transportation to consumers.

“During harvest time, the harvest coordinators and their teams make the arrangements to visit the farms. They harvest, grade, and make records of the farms and their produces’ details. This data is then fed into the system and linked to the farmer’s profile account. The farmer then gets a confirmation message through the phone number they provided, to confirm quantity and the money they are due to be paid,” says Mr Mutua.

The money is then remitted to the farmers through Mpesa account.

These processes, according to Sitoyo Lopokoiyit, Safaricom’s chief financial services officer, is made possible through the Safaricom Mpesa Daraja API (Application Programming Interface).

Daraja API essentially enables Twiga Foods to deploy a Customer to Business (C2B) and Business to Business (B2B) functionality, facilitating the company in making payments of Sh70,000 or less to farmers’ Mpesa accounts, while amounts over Sh70,000 shillings are credited directly to the farmer’s bank account through the Mpesa B2B functionality within the same platform.

The Daraja API creates the link between Twiga Foods platform and the M-Pesa platform for Twiga to make payments to the farmers.

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