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TechTank

Three ways mobile is helping farmers in Kenya

Joshua Bleiberg and Darrell M. West

After the harvest, farmers search for the buyer that will pay the highest price for their crops. Many farmers lack information about prices and market demand. A new generation of mobile applications aims to arm farmers in Kenya with data about prices that can help improve the efficiency of the market. New research evaluates a potential solution to this problem. M-Farm is an app that allows farmers to send text messages requesting information about crop prices. Research shows that M-Farm provides valuable data to farmers and the platform also connects farmers with food suppliers.

Sources of pricing information

The best evidence for the efficacy of the program was farmer’s general willingness to use the app. Text messages in Kenya generally cost 1 KSH but at the time of research M-Farm texts were 10 KSH. For Kenyan farmers using M-Farm, it was a vote of confidence that investing in expensive text messages would benefit them when they were able to sell their crops for more.

Before mobile devices were popular, the main sources of information about prices for farmers in Kenya were market buyers, middlemen, and radio broadcasts. Survey results indicate that farmers preferred receiving information from M-Farm when compared with market buyers or middlemen. Before the introduction of M-Farm, 43 percent of farmers learned about prices from market buyers and 50 percent learned from middlemen. After M-Farm, only 6 percent consulted market buyers and 23 reported speaking with middle men. These changes in reported behavior suggest confidence in the value of M-farm. One-third of farmers still used the radio after the introduction of M-Farm. Qualitative data suggests that farmers who were in the early stages of planning their crops were comfortable using the radio. Later in the process when farmers wanted to sell their crops they preferred M-farm because it quickly provided information, which was storable on their phones.

Knowing your market

A major advantage of M-Farm is the timeliness of the information that it provides. Passion fruit farmers in Migori were more confident they could find a place to sell their harvest. Ninety-seven percent of farmers reported that they could sell their passion fruits faster than previously. Reducing the number of spoiled fruits is an easy way to generate extra revenue for farmers.

Further research is needed to help tailor and improve aid programs. Mobile farming studies typically rely on self-reported survey data. There is some evidence that increases in the prices farmers received for crops where somewhat exaggerated. Providing information about pricing, which crops are worth growing, and how much of a crop a farmer should grow all help farmers, but more comprehensive aid efforts are necessary to aid subsistence farmers in Kenya and elsewhere.

Authors

J

Joshua Bleiberg

Ph.D. student - Vanderbilt University

Former Research Analyst - The Brookings Institution

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