Can I sell a watermelon online in Kenya?

With increasing discussion around farmers using technology to solve long standing issues in agriculture, like finding a market for their produce, it’s reasonable to ask: is there any evidence that farmers can actually make a digital sale?

It’s a good question, and the short answer is, yes. In a conversation snippet below with a Kenyan farmer he reveals how he used Facebook to find a buyer for his watermelons in Kisumu.

Listening to and summarising these conversations can give us powerful insights into existing digital behaviour when it comes to buying and selling produce online. In the case outlined, a farmer and buyer undertake negotiations using platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, including tools such as messaging, photo-sharing, friend-requests and so on.

This is interesting because it showcases how phones are tools to get discovered and connected to new buyers, to communicate and share information in the process of a negotiation, and even – to a lesser degree – assess the credibility of buyers based on information in their social networks.

Interesting, but the exception surely?

We might ask whether this is a one off, but a quick look at Facebook appears to reveal otherwise. There are hundreds of examples of small scale farmers posting their produce (often with nice pictures). A quick selection is below.


So what?… what if?

It’s great that these farmers are making some online sales, getting leads they wouldn’t otherwise have had to buyers etc, but there are two key things to note here:

  1. This is working, but it’s not working as well as it could
  2. This is working for digitally-savvy farmers, it could start working for the soon-to-be-savvy farmers

What if we could design the technology to more pro-actively match farmers to buyers (i.e. a bit more tailor made than Facebook)? And make the same solution work for farmers who are part of Safaricom’s growing 11+ million 30-day active mobile data users in Kenya? So long as agriculture remains the occupation of 75% of Kenyans, and smartphones and services like Facebook continue to increase in penetration, this sounds like an increasingly important questions to answer.

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