Evolution of Digital Marketplaces in Agriculture

In markets like Kenya agricultural buying and selling patterns are rapidly moving towards social platforms like Facebook, changing the landscape of opportunity for new marketplace initiatives

To see that farmers are taking to their phones and the internet to do business, take a look at Facebook. An article looking at the top 10 agriculture Facebook groups in Kenya lists around 70,000 members across these groups alone (they are not unique members, but that was in 2015 and there are many more members of these groups now).

Above we examine the number of monthly buying/selling posts in the leading Facebook group vs the leading marketplace platform (i.e. web + SMS based systems). Facebook is the most popular online forum for buying and selling produce in Kenya, far outstripping the level of activity on existing agriculture marketplace platforms. There are a number of reasons for Facebook’s success in this space with the primary reasons being that it is free to post, people are familiar with how to use it and many already have an account. Importantly, the large farming Facebook Groups provide a ready audience for buying and selling posts.

While recent papers and articles showcase the pitfalls of of existing marketplace platforms, they generally omit discussion of the rapid emergence of market interactions over free social media channels. Much of this behaviour is publicly visible, and is worth paying closer attention to.

Digitally speaking, social networks are your best bet to find a market in Kenya. In other blogs we look at some of the trends, behaviour and design ideas that social networks like Facebook throw up. In this post, we suggest how the activity points to a new theory for marketplace evolution in countries like Kenya.

One exciting prospect is imagining the growing mass of digital buyers and sellers in agriculture as the foundation for a functioning ‘intention economy’, i.e. an economy where the buyers’ intent to buy drives the production of goods to meet their specific needs. Here goods go beyond mere produce, and instead cover more granular intentions, e.g. “I need 10kg of avocados delivered every other week to my location”. To put this another way:

In future, digital intentions to buy and sell will be used to proactively match up a massive agricultural market

Digital technologies have shaped agricultural market places for over a decade. The advent of basic mobile telephony meant buyers and sellers could interact peer to peer, over long distances. With the rise of web access more were able to post content online along the lines of a classified ads model. In the current state, developments in technology and digital behaviours in these markets (as detailed above) should allow us to efficiently match up supply and demand without the need for sellers to ‘advertise’ in the traditional sense. Intention to purchase can be proactively matched with supply in a way that could dramatically increase efficiencies and leap frog agricultural marketplaces in emerging markets to truly “buyer oriented” economies (ones that might even work more efficiently than marketplaces in western markets).

On this view, we don’t have to create marketplace platforms and ask farmers and buyers to come and use them. We can put our efforts into observing and clarifying an already growing digital market online, and create services that answer the number one question asked: “can you find me someone I can buy from/sell to?”

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