Mobilizing Farmers: M-Farm Turns Obstacles into Opportunities

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By Jamila Abass (Co-Founder & CEO, M-Farm) After reading non-stop complaints aired by farmers through newspapers, I realized I could design a software application that would assist Kenyan farmers with some of their major problems, especially related to the sale of produce.

I enlisted the help of an IT friend, Susan that I had met at the iHub (Nairobi, Kenya). Susan’s background in mobile application development perfectly complimented my background in website development (and it didn’t hurt that our personalities meshed well too!). We brainstormed to create an application that would help the farmers know the actual retail price for their produce -- which would give them bargaining power over what middle men were offering them.

Within the same period of time, the ipo48 competition was announced. During the preparation leading up to the competition, Linda, a marketing and business specialist, joined the M-Farm team.

38 initial ideas were narrowed down to 19 groups, and out of those groups, it was M-Farm that took away the prize, 10,000 euros as a startup investment in the company. The founders, all of them ladies by the way, left their corporate jobs to make the M-Farm product a success.

So what's M-Farm? M-Farm is an SMS and web-based application focused on improving weaknesses in the value chain. It disseminates targeted agricultural information via SMS to small-scale and marginal farmers in Kenya. For the past ten months, over 2,000 farmers subscribed to the system and found it is useful for their daily activities.

Are we making any money? Not yet, we are still in the valley of death but we are getting there. The startup attracted a lot of investors and is receiving it's second round of investment this month.

Photo credit: Antony Njuguna/Reuters of a Kenyan farmer sending a text message to inquire about the latest maize prices from her maize field in Thigio, 35km from the capital, Nairobi.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: About the guest blogger: Jamila Abass is a co-founder and CEO of MFarm Ltd (K), a Kenyan startup that empowers farmers with useful market information through their mobile phones. Jamila is a web and mobile app developer with an engineering degree from Abdelmalek Essaadi University. Prior to MFarm, Jamila worked with Kenya Medical Research Institute as a Medical Records Systems developer, and as Business Development Manager of Akirachix, an IT forum for girls. Jamila strives to empower people, especially women, with the knowledge to unleash their potential and drive growth in the East African IT sector.