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Rural Kenya goes digital as farmers sell cattle, potatoes

By Lee Mwiti | June 28th 2016
By Lee Mwiti | June 28th 2016

"Good bull in its adolescent stages," reads an ad on one of the largest online classified sites in the country.

Alongside a price tag of Sh20,000, the ad carries a photo of a shiny black and white bull slurping up its meal. Slightly iffy grammar and price notwithstanding, this is merely the tip of the iceberg — the ad from a farmer in Eldoret shows rural Kenya is going digital.

Thousands of such advertisements started appearing on OLX about six months ago after the online marketer introduced an agriculture category that is becoming popular with farmers, especially in rural areas. Such ads are beginning to dominate the domestic online classifieds with farmers placing ads for cows, rabbits, goats, sheep and even potatoes.

Name it and there's some farmer in a rural part of the country who wants to sell online. So much has been the influx of ads that the firm has now introduced separate categories for animals. The largest number of ads placed in this category, however, are for cattle, chicken and other domestic animals.

But as rural economy begins to get access to and recognise the fruits of digitisation, OLX says the success of this category has spurred a lot of enquiries and is planning to do more to make it easier for more customers to access the site and sell their products. "The category was launched in January 2016. We have six subcategories cutting across the entire agriculture value chain, which include farm produce, livestock, poultry and fish and farm machinery and equipment among others," says Priscilla Muhiu, OLX Head of Marketing and Communications, East Africa.

To date, she says the website has at least 10,000 items posted under this category with approximately 30 per cent of users selling their items within seven days.

Agnes Wamaitha, a potato trader based in Nyandarua says that she began placing ads to sell potatoes after her daughter's suggestion. "She came back from Nairobi in February and when I told her I wanted to sell some potatoes but no one around was interested in buying, she asked me to place an online ad. I began getting calls from day one," says Wamaitha.

Two weeks and three visits from prospective buyers later, she had sold all the potatoes she had in stock. In the three months that followed, she recruited other potato farmers from the area who are now selling to people from as far as Nairobi using an online application downloaded on their phones. But why did OLX start the category?

"Agriculture contributes to 25 percent of Kenya's GDP. It is Sh1.5 trillion trade in Kenya. After intensive research, we discovered that middlemen commonly known as 'brokers' play a central role in providing a market place to farm produce," says Muhiu.

"However their prices are often very low therefore the farmer gets very low returns from his produce. By removing middlemen in the trade, OLX will add significant value to farmers, traders and even end consumers."

According to Muhiu, the company has been providing added value solutions to both large and small-scale farmers. "We are working with buyers in markets and institutions, who order their produce from OLX, we then connect them to a farmer with ready produce. This is achieved by identifying when farmers on our database harvest their produce," she says.

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