Partner: Virginia Tech University, Egerton University
Funding Mechanism: LASER (Long-term Assistance and Services for Research) PULSE (Partners for University-Led Solutions Engine)
African Indigenous Vegetables (AIV)
16 months (Sep 2020 – Dec 2021)
58 users (including producers, supply chain actors, retailers & consumers)
AgUnity V3 Application
4.5 million smallholder farmers in Kenya (Kenya Agricultural Ministry)
AIVs offer high returns to labour and have a short growing cycle that can be incorporated into a year-round production system.
The Government of Kenya (GOK) has identified the strengthening of the horticultural sector as one of its core strategies in addressing food security, unemployment, and poverty alleviation. African indigenous vegetables (AIVs) in particular have the potential to make significant contributions to the food and nutrition security status of low-income households in Kenya. In addition to their rich micronutrient content and other health benefits, the market for AIVs is becoming increasingly lucrative and their production is relatively simple, thus creating a viable income-earning opportunity for smallholders and landless laborers.
Economic and nutritional gains from AIVs have not yet been fully realized, particularly in rural Kenya, due to inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the value chains and wider food system. Though once an important part of the traditional Kenyan diet, colonialization led to a rejection of AIVs and a transition to consuming more exotic vegetables, such as cabbage or kale. Digitization of the AIV value chain holds significant potential to improve value chain efficiency and drive financial literacy among value chain actors.
The overarching objective of the proposed research project is to determine if a blockchain application can be used to resolve transactional and informational inefficiencies in AIV value chains. Specifically, in a way that improves food and nutrition security for all VC actors, focusing on priority groups such as smallholder farmers, low-income consumers, women, and youth.
Data Collection & Research: Trip was undertaken initially to identify key stakeholders and conduct early-stage group discussions. A questionnaire involving 322 value chain actors was then undertaken to identify pain points throughout the value chain. Finally, three team members completed immersive research by living with three selected households for three days to develop a deeper understanding of their lives.
Training & Pre-Deployment: This phase included the development of training material and a 'train the trainer' session. This is where AgUnity trained three Egerton University students to train farmers on how to use AgUnity phones and also how to spot potential 'AgChampions' who can take on coaching roles within the community.
Deployment: In total, 60 AgUnity smartphones were deployed to farmers, traders, retailers and key enablers in Kakamega. Team members from AgUnity, Egerton University and the Ministry for Agriculture were present for the training with the AgUnity service desk also available for additional support. AgUnity field officers also support value chain development through working with farmer groups.
AgUnity started by conducting meetings with country partners to establish process maps, key stakeholders, product users and other supply chain information. Site visits were undertaken to identify any context specific issues.
During development phase AgUnity set up a cloud-platform secured in Blockchain, loaded relevant updates to the AgUnity App and assigned a device to each actor in the supply chain. Training manuals for the products were developed and distributed during this phase.
Where required, assistance was provided to farmers and processors in the process of finding buyers, communicating supply chain and quality assurance improvements, which in turn returned higher prices for the commodity.
The analysis confirms the hypothesis that there are different vertical coordination arrangements between value chain actors based on the size and locality of the final market. Micro producers tend to supply rural or peri-urban consumers or peri-urban retailers directly. Small-scale producers are more likely to sell their produce to a trader.
Various types of gender-based risks and discrimination were reported during the questionnaire. For example, customers appear to prefer to buy from men, because women negotiate too much. This may be because women feel that they may be taken advantage of in a transaction. Thirty percent of female retailers indicate that it is harder for women to become retailers than men due to difficulty in accessing credit and the extent of household responsibilities (i.e., chores, childcare).
The success of digital blockchain solutions for value chain inefficiencies requires at minimum that actors are able to buy and use a smartphone. Between 25 and 30% of female value chain actors and 50% of male value chain actors have previously used a smartphone. Of those who had previously used a smartphone, ownership was less than 20% for female value chain actors, 25% for male producers, and 0% for male retailers. Phones are most often used for talking with friends and family outside the household and family within the household with business use for the phone is limited to 6% of producers.
The majority of respondents were aware that mobile technology can be used to market agricultural products (75%); however, only 14% of respondents have ever used smartphones to market their AIVs. There is significant interest among all value chain actors to use digital solutions to improve the marketing of their AIVs. Almost all producers, middle people, and retailers are willing to adopt digital marketing of their AIVs (90%). Furthermore, between 60 and 70% of producers, middle people, and retailers are willing to both buy a smartphone and pay a small monthly fee to use a digital platform to market their AIVs.
The energy of the participants and their availability to learn and adopt the new processes to improve their businesses despite the limitations created by COVID19 was very encouraging. Most of the beneficiaries attested that they would recommend colleagues and business partners they felt would benefit from the project. Despite their limitation in digital skills, they quickly learnt due to the high enthusiasm they hold towards digitalising their businesses.