Joseph Macharia is the founder of Mkulima Young, an online marketplace for farmers that offers free services to buyers and sellers of agricultural produce.

He spoke to ‘Seeds of Gold’ about Mkulima Young.

In terms of age groups, which farmers sell produce online? 

Young farmers form the majority of people trading online. According to our recent survey, those aged 18-34 years comprise 50 per cent of users.

However, we have noticed a slight increase in usage of those aged 35 and above. I attribute this to a rise in number of individuals, especially professionals, who have taken up farming especially due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Then there are those professionals in urban areas who are farming in rural areas. These telephone farmers are among the biggest users of online platforms.

What kind of farm produce is sold most online?

All farm products are sold online, but the bulk are horticultural crops, livestock and livestock products and farm equipment.

There is a bias towards horticultural produce which indicates a shift in farming practices from traditional crops like coffee, tea and maize to short cycle crops that are on high demand like tomatoes, capsicum, onions and herbs.

Are the buyers and sellers on the platform repeat users?

Yes, because online platforms provide users with important market insights such as comparison or prices and buyers can make the requests of the product they are looking for.

Our analysis shows we have over 50 percent using the platform daily and about 30 percent weekly.

Are users from rural or urban areas?

The majority of registered users of online marketplaces are in Nairobi County, followed by food baskets counties of Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia. But in our case, we have registered users from all the counties and other African countries.

Is there a relationship between age and usage of agriculture marketplaces?

The younger generation is using the platforms more because digital technologies have been widely adopted by them.

For the telephone farmers, many who are middle-age, digital technologies allow them flexibility to market their produce as they can still sell while working in the office.

What are the barriers to usage of online marketplaces?

First, there is lack of technological infrastructure especially in the rural areas where majority may not be having smartphones.

Second, despite owning the smartphones, some farmers may find it challenging to follow some simple steps of posting their farm produce.

Third, some may not trust online platforms since one is dealing with a virtual buyer or seller and then there is fear of change.

How can these barriers be overcome by individuals, service providers and government?

For individuals, with the proliferation of digital technologies, farmers need to spot the entrepreneurial opportunities they enable. While there could be trust issues, these are being eliminated by the sites verifying sellers.

The government has played its part in providing the relevant infrastructure such as ensuring internet connectivity even to some of the remote areas.

Since digital technology is dynamic, relevant policies need to be developed that align with the changing times.

There is also a need for the government to initiate programmes that encourage farming as a sustainable source of income.

What lesson have you learnt running an agricultural online trading site?

To run an online site well, one must integrate it with social media channels. For farmers selling online, they need to focus and be consistent to develop a brand that people can trust.