In early 2012, Mkulima Young mushroomed from a Kenyan Facebook group with farmers seeking to sell and buy products. Besides Kenya, today the interactive platform has a regional presence in countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Kenya.
“When we started, most farmers were not keen on using online marketing nor were they online. That was the main challenge,” explains Daniel Kiragu, the co-founder of the online, one-stop farmers’ market.
Older farmers lacked the understanding of accessing and using online platforms although it was popular among young farmers. Word-of-month and assistance from younger farmers, technology-savvy family members of farmers and other community members led to older farmers steadily joining Mkulima Young.
Kiragu says he and his partner – the group’s founder, Joseph Macharia – decided to migrate to a website to improve the quality of their services based on the acquired information about relevant produce and farmers to ensure credibility.
It hasn’t been an easy journey for the business to become this popular. For example, the start-up capital came from their pockets and some monies received from non-profit organisations. But again, the money diminished quickly when there was an increase in the number of farmers and buyers visiting the site.
The increase was more evident during the Covid-19 pandemic because the limited access to physical marketplaces forced some farmers to search for digital alternatives such as Mkulima.
A service that grew too quickly
Before the pandemic, they found themselves short of expansion capital, which was needed to enhance their application and online systems. They also needed to add more services such as delivery, recruit farmers in rural areas and market to more farmers in countries such as South Africa, despite having some organic reach to this country.
“The [shortage of capital] has not yet disoriented us from our goal nor main focus,” says Kiragu. The good thing is that he and his partner do not just possess the tech know-how, they are also on the ground as farmers in their own right. “So, we understand the situation and behaviour of farmers. We are more connected to the farmers and locals,” he says.
Mkulima means farmer in Swahili and their trade name loosely translates to young farmer. For farmers to be registered in the online marketplace, they need to create a profile with information such as their location and at least three images of all the produce that the person intends to list.
Kiragu explains that they rarely need formal documentation as most rural farmers do not have the appropriate business documentation and to avoid having large sets of personal information under the care of Mkulima.
Farmers list their products to create awareness, secure clients and generate consistent, lucrative sales. Thus far, over 250 000 farmers have used the platform.
Potential clients visit the platform to find relevant farmers with pertinent agricultural products. Any of the previously mentioned parties can also receive other agricultural services such as livestock nutrition consultancy. The platform, therefore, provides a one-stop service to address the needs of different agricultural stakeholders, including tradesmen.
The benefits of the online marketplace
Levi Wakisi, an onion farmer and trader is one of those who have benefited immensely from the services provided by Mkulima Young. Wakisi managed to establish a regular stream of customers who reached out to inquire about the respective products. “Where are you,” the clients asked Wakisi as he is based in Jinja Town, Uganda.
Wakisi isn’t the only one who has benefited. Portia Phiri (22) is a trained nutritionist from Malawi who opted to farm soya and groundnuts. Her farming journey took off after saving funds from her internship and raising capital from her family. Phiri then used a small piece of land and planned to generate enough income to provide financial assistance at home.
Phiri grows sugarcane, soya and groundnuts from her four hectare piece of land. “I grow the two crops (soya and groundnut) because they don’t require much, especially in terms of pest and disease management,” she says. This makes them affordable to a starting farmer like herself. Her products are predominantly sold through Mkulima Young.
In Soroti, Uganda, Daniel Abiong makes cashew seedlings. The young farmer sold the first pack of seedlings two and half weeks after listing them on the platform. He was contacted by a buyer who paid 43% more than the suppliers of government programs.
For Kiragu, Mkulima Young will soon become the leading, agricultural and digital marketplace in East Africa. “We have Africanised our platform and put more focus on farmers because the platform itself was started by farmers,” he says.
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