With mobile phone networks spread throughout the country, services such as Safaricom's mobile money transfer (M-Pesa), mobile banking (M-Kesho) and information on agricultural produce markets (411 Get It) have increased job opportunities for rural youths as the demand for local agents increases. In his late twenties, Elijah Kamau, from Pwani in Nakuru district, is an example: he approached Equity Bank in 2007 for a loan to set up an M-Pesa kiosk. As well as enabling farmers and traders to deposit or withdraw money using their mobile phones, Kamau was able to pay back his start-up loan in just six instalments.
ICTs are being increasingly exploited by rural youths in Kenya
© Jeff Haskins
Benefits of simplifying commerce
By simplifying money access, members of the community have more money at their disposal and therefore are more likely to spend it locally. The service has also enabled farmers and traders to purchase inputs and make orders with their suppliers without having to travel into town. The savings made on transport costs enable them to acquire more stock, which means that the entire community benefits from more goods being available locally.
By simplifying money access, farmers are able to purchase inputs
© Chris Mwangi
Kamau's business has also benefitted from transactions made by the farm owners residing in Nakuru, who do not have to commute to the village to pay their casual labourers. These farm owners are also able to pay their faming supervisors for land preparation and purchase of fertilisers and seeds.
In 2008, the entire region of Nakuru experienced a severe drought, which led to widespread crop failure, and Kamau noticed an increased flow of money through his business due to remittances from relatives in urban areas. "This service has strengthened friendships and social interactions in the community," Kamau says. "Moreover, this has greatly contributed to the success of my business. This means that the entire community benefits from the goods available."
Using the revenue generated by his M-Pesa business, Kamau has diversified into farming, now leasing 20 acres of land. He also receives information about agronomic practices from the Organic Farmer e-bulletin, published by the International Centre for Insects, Pests and Ecology (ICIPE), through his data-enabled mobile phone, helping him to grow maize, beans and potatoes.
Using the revenue generated by his M-Pesa business, Kamau has diversified into farming
© Chris Mwangi
Integrating and adapting ICT services
The SMS-based '411 Get It' service, a joint venture between Safaricom and the Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange (KACE), also provides Kamau with information on agricultural produce and market prices, enabling him to identify favourable markets and cut out middle men. With the profits from his farm, Kamau opened an M-Kesho business, allowing community members to make deposits from their M-Pesa accounts into an Equity Bank account where they earn interest. "This is an incentive for rural youths to engage in farming," Kamau adds.
During the planting and weeding season, Kamau's operating capital is reduced as his customers increase their M-Pesa withdrawals. To counter this problem, Kamau took out another loan from Equity Bank to purchase a motorcycle so that he could travel to Nakuru town quickly to top up his M-Pesa account. As a result, he has a steady flow of cash in order to facilitate local business transactions.
Despite an increasing range of information services available through the internet, literacy remains a major obstacle for many people because these services are only supplied in official languages. The technologies therefore need to be adapted in such a way as to be accessible in a variety of local dialects to help farmers have easy access to modern farming information and technologies, especially to tackle the current climatic uncertainties that are being experienced. Access to ICT services would also help to foster local skill building and knowledge sharing between rural communities.
Yet guided by locally driven business oriented solutions, Kamau's experiences and business knowledge clearly show the important linkages and synergies that exist between the development of ICTs and information sharing that can support the livelihoods of a large cross-section of youth and other members of communities for agricultural and rural development.
Written by Chris Mwangi