Across the world, a successful farmer is one who’s connected with market buyers and up-to-date pricing trends. But in developing countries like Uganda, this isn’t always easy: Trips to the nearest marketplace can take up to a full day, and even still, buyers aren’t always interested.
Searching the Internet for the current selling price of cassava, for example, is one option, but most farmers in this country don’t have easy access to the web. They do have mobile phones, though — which is where Souktel comes in. Like a faster and easier classified ad network for the farming community, Souktel’s new Farm Price SMS service — launched with leading local tech non-profit UgaBYTES — lets the average Ugandan farmer get real-time market prices for his or her crops, as well as potential buyer information, all via text messaging.
The service will also connect farmers with support organizations across the country and offer customized news updates — for example, banana growers may receive a notice on their mobiles about a training session on bio-pesticides in the community of Masaka, with contact details attached.
The cost to each user is less than a dollar per search — a huge savings when compared to the cost of making phone calls to track down buyers, or traveling long distances to the market and potentially leaving the farm itself understaffed.
Start-up funding for software development was provided by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), an EU organization based in the Netherlands. However, local partners are confident that this initial grant will be the only outside support needed: As a commercial venture, the service should ideally sustain itself through regular user payments.
For Souktel, the Uganda Farm Price service was a perfect opportunity to create something new from something well-established, as co-founder Lana Hijazi explains: “We took our successful JobMatch service, which has been connecting job seekers and employers for several years, and realized we could use this same platform to match ‘people looking for stuff’ and ‘people offering stuff’ in other ways. Whether it’s information about farming, education or health, there’s tremendous potential for this to be replicated in other sectors.”