Towards Improving Agricultural Marketing Information Systems for Smallholder Farmers: A Tharaka Nithi Case

Julia N. Ameru, Damaris Odero, Alice Kwake

Abstract


Agricultural marketing information systems play a crucial role in farmers’ decision making process on production and marketing of farm produce. Farmers require easy access to relevant, up to date and adequate agricultural marketing information. The extent of access and use of agricultural marketing information systems in Tharaka Nithi and Kenya in general is not clear. Often information platforms exist but they are not accessible to the farmers, extension workers and policy makers for decision making process. This study sought to map the existing agricultural marketing information systems, assess the challenges farmers face in their access and use and propose improvements to guide development of robust easy to use and accessible agricultural marketing information systems. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews and analyzed by use of qualitative and quantitative methods. Findings show that, a number of agricultural marketing information system platforms exist in Tharaka Nithi. Farmers who had access to relevant information on appropriate farming methods and output marketing sold their farm produce at higher prices. We have estimated the financial benefit of access to information as Ksh 460 per 90 kg bag of maize and Ksh 870 per 90 kg bag of beans. Using 10% of total land area of Tharaka Nithi to represent the high potential land allocated to maize and beans, we estimate that at the entire county level the financial benefits associated with access to information could conservatively be estimated at more than Ksh 200 million (US$ 2 million) per year. These benefits can potentially be scaled up with improved information dissemination because currently, over 50% of the farmers in the region lack access to various types of existing information packages. To address challenges, there is a need for building capacity of the farmers on importance of market information, various sources of such information and appropriate interpretation of such information as a driver for agricultural profitability. Marketing group membership is crucial for farm produce aggregation, negotiation for better prices and acquisition of farm inputs at lower costs due to economies of scale. Further, the extension workers ought to be proactive in information dissemination via platforms like Msoko, Soko-pepe and Mfarm which can reach many farmers simultaneously. The study further highlights a need for government support in development of technological and ICT infrastructure as a foundation for modern ICT based marketing information systems. The conventional dissemination method that requires direct contact between the extension workers and farmers is currently impractical due to low extension worker farmer ratio.

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