MWANGI: E-Platforms are the way to revive agriculture
It is great to see that the East African Community is not dragging behind when it comes to modern technology, as witnessed by the launch of an online trading platform to connect farmers with grain buyers.
It is hoped that G-Soko, the new platform launched on 31 July, will now enable smallholder farmers in East Africa to sell their produce at favourable prices.
It was developed by a Kenyan-based Information Technology firm, Virtual City, in partnership with the Eastern African Grain Council (EAGC) and the FoodTrade Eastern and Southern Africa Organisation.
It is a well-known fact that while some parts of the region sometimes experience plenty, others go through extreme scarcity.
This is especially tragic when it comes to perishable products such as vegetables and milk.
This results in losses to farmers and wasted opportunities, even as multitudes in the region go hungry.
Addressing this concern requires a multi-pronged approach.
A critical problem is poor or non-existent infrastructure.
This situation can only be solved with sufficient investment in roads, railways and other infrastructure to enable fast movement of goods from farmers to markets.
But there is also the issue of ignorance when it comes to knowledge of markets.
Moreover, many smallholder farmers may find it uneconomical to transport their small quantities of produce to distant markets, a concern that is addressed mainly through strengthening the co-operative movement.
Recent years have seen the neglect of the agricultural sector, to the detriment of our economies.
A nation that cannot feed itself simply loses its dignity, with our leaders forced to go on begging missions every so often.
This neglect of agriculture has come about due to a number of reasons, including our penchant for blindly following prescriptions from Bretton Woods and other Western institutions even when their recommendations risk causing greater misery and poverty.
Quite predictably, many people – given a choice – have abandoned agriculture for other more lucrative pursuits.
Those who have no choice engage in farming grudgingly as they seek opportunities elsewhere.
This is not the kind of motivation that can see the region feeding itself any time soon.
That is why the latest initiative is particularly welcome. But farmers don’t only grow grains, which is the focus of G-Soko.
While grains do form an important aspect of the diets of many East Africans, there is a need to think of how to expand the platform to cater for all categories of agricultural produce.
Indeed, a number of other online platforms have been launched in recent years.
These include Mkulima Young and M-Farm in Kenya.
All these efforts deserve recognition by regional leaders.
The new G-Soko platform is, certainly, a welcome addition to these previous efforts.
In order to encourage even more people to participate in farming activities, there is perhaps a need to begin some form of collaboration between these various platforms.
Since the aim is generally to assist farmers and not selfish profiteering, it should be possible to collaborate and thus gain from joint synergies.
This will perhaps make it possible, for instance, for farmers who subscribe to one of these platforms to benefit from the information available at the others.
The role of EAC regional institutions with a role to play in IT and agriculture, of course, should be to support the automation of agricultural trading systems and processes.
By bridging the gap between farmers, traders and consumers, we will eventually achieve lower costs for activities in the agricultural sector, less wastage, and increased food security in the region.
A further benefit will be to enable the provision of credit to farmers.
Through G-Soko, for instance, they will be able to access credit while waiting for prices to increase through pledging the electronic warehouse receipt with banks and agro-dealers.
This initiative therefore has the capacity to bring a large section of the rural population into the world of modern financial services.
Even more than meetings in five-star hotels where grand speeches on integration are delivered amid wining and dining, it is initiatives such as the online platforms that will make a huge impact in integrating our peoples and delivering real improvement in their livelihoods.
The EAC must be at the forefront in midwifing such innovations.
By Isaac Mwangi- East African News Agency.
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