Small holder farmers, who account for 90 per cent of the agricultural output in Africa, are extremely poor, because of poor market information for their produce, a study by the Agricultural Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) say.
The report revealed that 85 per cent of smallholder farmers lack information and connectivity to lucrative markets at provincial, national and global levels hence resort to subsistence farming or sell their produce cheaply at local markets. Further, the report observed that the village economy by small holder farmers results in low investment, weak incentives, and low adoption of smart farming technologies.
Poor infrastructure linking village farmers to the world and a poor or lack of government policies regarding smallholder farmers were identified as key obstacles towards farmers economic traction.
In Kenya for instance, small scale maize farmers end up selling their produce to middlemen at a loss of up to 40 per cent, according to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).
Rose Andaje, NCPB Corporate Affairs Manager acknowledged that poor infrastructure was inflating the cost of doing business especially in the agricultural sector. She cited poor road network and low internet connectivity ?-which leads to ?a wide market information gap especially for rural farmers -as the major hindrances to agricultural growth.
In response, various organisations, such as the National Farmers Information Service (NAFIS), have set up systems to dispatch market information to farmers’ mobile phones.
NAFIS’ system allows farmers to access market information by simply calling the numbers 020-5100102 at normal rates. The system was designed in 2009, but has since been upgraded to include specific hot line numbers to specific agricultural categories like livestock, cereals, vegetables, poultry etc.
Those with access to internet can visit www.nafis.go.ke and search for any market information including latest prices of agricultural commodities in major wholesale stores across the country. The information is regularly updated by Extension Officers and a Voice-Based Service and contains summarized information which farmers’ access using mobile phones.
NAFIS say the initiative has so far reached 2.1m small scale farmers in the country, although it has a capacity to reach 4.5m.
Bonyo said that the system has taken advantage of the high mobile phone penetration in the country, which currently stands at 80 per cent according to the Communication Authority of Kenya, to reach majority smallholder farmers who lack access to internet.
In a bid to ensure effective communication, the voice service is available in local dialects, making the initiative most suitable for majority of the illiterate smallholder farmers in the country.
Apart from offering market information, NAFIS also allows farmers to obtain other extensional farming information from virtual Agricultural Extension Officers.
The IFAD study concludes that if agricultural stakeholders and government create a conducive environment to enable smallholder farmers participate effectively in global market, extreme poverty can be eradicated with double digits.