Agriculture online marketplaces enhancing food trade in East Africa

When Kenyan farmer and grains trader David Waweru recently put up for sale his bean harvest on an agricultural online marketplace, he received several requests from buyers in neighboring Uganda.

Waweru talked to some of the traders and realized there was a shortage of grain in the country.

The information enabled him to source beans from other farmers and sell them to a buyer who wanted them in bulk.

“I sold at least 5,000 kilos of beans. This is a business that I would not have gotten if it were not for the online marketplace,” he said.

Waweru is among dozens of Kenyan farmers, traders and other businesspeople who are monitoring the online sites to know what is in surplus and on high demand in which region in Kenya and across the border.

The traders are thus able to buy produce from one region or country where there is a surplus and supply to where there is a shortage.

The new mode of gathering market intelligence has helped boost food trade not only in Kenya but also across the East African Community, where countries have free trade policies.

“These days there is no need to call fellow traders in the neighboring country or have friends to help me monitor the market. All I do is monitor the online marketplaces which provide real-time information,” said Urbanas Mutuku, a grain trader in Kitengela, south of the capital in Nairobi.

With the suburb being in a county on the border of Kenya and Tanzania, the movement of goods in and out of the two countries is easier.

Joseph Macharia, founder of Mkulima Young, Kenya’s leading free agricultural online marketplace, said the platforms are enhancing regional trade.

“Traders in East Africa can know where a certain type of agricultural produce is in short supply thus can sell to the other country where there is a shortage,” he explained.

According to him, products like pineapples and ginger from Uganda, are among the most sought after on the platform by Kenyan traders.

Similarly, groundnuts from Malawi are also popular going by the posts made on the site.

Online marketplaces, according to him, are playing a bigger role than what was initially envisioned.

“The future is bright as the platforms are able to give market insights. A lot of data is generated from what users post over time which is very beneficial,” he said.

Using the data, he said one can tell for instance, what five months or years ago which food produce was in high demand and be able to project future trends,” he said.

“The future in this business is organically generated data for farming business and this will present unique business opportunities for our users,” he added.

Bernard Mwaso of Edell IT Solution, a software development start-up in Nairobi, said while the primary function of the platforms remains, a lot of data can be mined from it even by the common user as done by the traders to enhance trade.

“More useful data can be obtained from those who run the sites, which can help one understand the food production patterns and market trends,” he said. Enditem

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