SMS based rural agricultural markets monitoring information system in Kenya
Agricultural market information in Kenya has been inaccessible to rural farmers. The rural farmers have been left to depend on traders who dictate prices of their produce leading to low prices that are unfavorable to farmers. Most of existing solutions that provide market information use SMS technology which is widely available and cost effective in Kenya, however, requirement to adhere to a strict syntax, registration via the web and the fact that most of these systems are offered in English making most rural farmers who cannot effectively communicate in English unable to use the system. The lack of information has been worsened by a combination of factors that include; low levels of literacy, limited connection to internet and high cost of broadband internet when available, and weak purchasing power among rural farmers. In this research, a framework was developed around the challenges mentioned above. The framework seeks to guide development of an SMS (Short Message Service) system that will act as a platform with which rural farmers and traders can share information regarding price of commodities in various markets. Rural farmers are also able to place offers for produce they have and intend to sell. On their part, traders are able to advertise the produce they wish to buy. These offers to sell and buy are matched in the system with buyers receiving contacts of sellers and sellers receiving contacts of buyers. At this point the two parties can communicate using their phones and strike a deal. The system was developed using agile development methodology with iterative development and testing done. On completion of development, rural farmers were recruited to use the system. In four out of eight Kenyan provinces, two rural markets were sampled. Five rural farmers and five traders in each of the markets were sampled. The participants were trained on how to use the system and given access to use it for a period of two weeks. Messages sent by users and responses sent to users were used to determine accuracy of the system. The participants were interviewed and their responses used to fill a SUS (System Usability Scale). It was found that the system accurately translated 95% of all incoming user messages. On the SUS scale of a to 100,the system scored 93.6% with feedback from 75 users. These results show that problem of lack of affordable and easily accessible market information can be solved using a system like the one developed in this research by following a framework that targets solutions to challenges faced in accessing agricultural market information in rural Kenya.