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ICTs improve access to livestock markets

Market information can be requested through SMS (© Gatarwa Kariuki)
Market information can be requested through SMS
© Gatarwa Kariuki

The lack of transparent, timely and reliable livestock marketing information is seen by many as one of the greatest challenges to the development of the livestock industry in East Africa. Without access to information about livestock prices at different regional markets, pastoralists are unable to identify which points-of-sale offer the best prices for their livestock and livestock products.

In Mbirikani, Kajiado district, Kenya, Maasai pastoralist Ole Odungo once relied on middlemen to gain market information. However, a marketing information system has been developed by the Livestock Information Network and Knowledge System (LINKS) to support livestock producers and traders. Now Odungo uses his mobile phone to query livestock prices in Emali, Mombasa and Nairobi, and this prior knowledge significantly improves his bargaining power with livestock traders.

Increasing marketing opportunities

Given the high dependency of pastoralists' livelihoods on the sale of livestock and livestock products, LINKS designed and implemented an information communication technology (ICT) infrastructure to collate data on livestock sales and prices from a network of different markets for disseminaton using SMS messages. The project has been such a success that the system has been used to develop a National Livestock Marketing Information System (NLMIS) in Kenya.

Run by a technical team headed by the livestock marketing services division of the Ministry of Livestock Development, NLMIS relies on a network of district livestock marketing officers and data monitors to transmit data between markets and the database. The field officers are also trained to download, analyse, and summarise the information to transmit to pastoralists and traders, including information about prices and volumes of cattle, camels, sheep and goats at livestock markets.

Field officers are trained how to transmit the information to pastoralists and traders (© Gatarwa Kariuki)
Field officers are trained how to transmit the information to pastoralists and traders
© Gatarwa Kariuki

Traders and pastoralists have been trained how to query data from the system using SMS and to download data from the website. "It has been especially important to involve and engage communities of livestock producers and traders in broadening awareness on access, use and interpretation of the livestock marketing information, through training at community level," explains Gatarwa Kariuki, a project officer based at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi.

The market information is also made available online, and may be downloaded for printing and sharing with livestock communities with no internet access. The information is also shared by email, posted on billboards at market places and can be requested through SMS. With support from the Kenya Livestock Marketing Council (KLMC) and the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV), the system has expanded to cover 36 major markets across Kenya.

Vibrant markets

As well as benefitting individual pastoralists, like Odungo, NLMIS has also transformed undeveloped markets. For example, situated in Pokot district, in the north west of Kenya, Chepareria was a highly volatile market, characterised by fluctuating prices and volumes of animals traded. However, with the availability of marketing information through SMS and information boards, competition among livestock traders has increased, and this has improved and stabilised prices paid to livestock keepers.

The vibrancy of the Chepareria market has also attracted financial providers, Equity Bank, who are now providing mobile banking to traders on market days, enhancing the culture of saving among the pastoralists. Women have also benefitted by providing animal health services, fodder and small loans to the traders.

With the availability of marketing information, competition among livestock traders has increased (© Gatarwa Kariuki)
With the availability of marketing information, competition among livestock traders has increased
© Gatarwa Kariuki

Empowering producers to negotiate for better prices has been crucial, Kariuki believes. "Equipping market agencies and communities of livestock keepers with appropriate tools and information has helped them plan for and respond to changing incomes, and consequently has improved livelihoods," he says.

Partnership and policy

The success of the marketing system has resulted from the effective collaboration between government ministries, NGOs and community-based organisations, states Kariuki. He adds: "Support from the government was required to make this a reality, in terms of development and adoption of a policy that guarantees ICT access to a wide clientele, especially in the more remote and disadvantaged areas where marketing of livestock contributes the major share to livelihoods."

In addition to helping livestock producers identify markets and improve their bargaining position with traders, Kariuki explains that the system is having wider benefits. "The provision of market information has equipped planners and policymakers with the tools to track price trends, which is helping them improve decision-making and devise appropriate interventions to mitigate the effects of deteriorating terms of trade for pastoral livelihoods," he says.

Looking to the future, LINKS is training staff from the Ministry of Livestock Development to manage the system in order to transfer the whole operation to the Ministry by April 2011. Plans are also under way to add more markets and link the system to organisations that will be able to disseminate the information to a wider audience. LINKS is also exploring opportunities to expand the system to other countries in the region.

Date published: January 2011

 

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Being able to access livestock market information from 36 ma... (posted by: Masiga Wafula)

 

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