Some turned to farming due to unemployment or underemployment and to support their family’s agribusiness. Some, however, venture into farming to build digital platforms that facilitate market linkages. Farmers are now using online platforms to sell their produce. This happens in two ways:
Formal marketplaces, through multi-sided marketplaces built to connect farmers to markets.
“Social agriculture”, the practice of using social media to sell agricultural commodities.
Formal marketplaces and social media platforms create new ways for farmers to search and discover new markets. Traditionally, agricultural commodities were sold through middlemen at local markets; this model enabled the proliferation of middlemen, who controlled marketing, pricing, and access to clients. Farmers are turning to digital platforms to sell at competitive prices and link up with clients.
Experience selling on Formal Marketplaces
Formal platforms expose farmers to a wider market, however in this sector, there are few platforms and most of them are not well known. Some examples are Ecosokoni, MkulimaYoung and Young Farmers Kenya. These platforms are not designed to facilitate end-to-end transactions, e.g., payment, fulfillment, and logistics, meaning that all the transactions are carried out off the platform, and the platform now acts as a connection.
Since most of these formal marketplace platforms are not widely known, farmers report slow sales through them and may look for other avenues to connect to the market.
Experience selling on Social Agriculture
Farmers use social media not only for selling, but also to showcase the farming process as a way to engage their audience. Different social platforms offer different advantages for farmers depending on the target demographic and what the platform is best suited for. Facebook and WhatsApp are the most commonly used platforms, while Instagram is the least used. Some farmers use multiple farmer groups within Facebook or Whatsapp while others use their personal accounts to create awareness. For most farmers, the social media strategy entails amassing followers by sharing the farming process to build credibility with clients and having frequent posts.
So what does this mean for the farmer? What would help them in this sector?
1. Developing critical digital marketing skills as they become more necessary
Farmers need more than agricultural knowledge to succeed. Entrants need to figure out many variables: where, how, what, and when to farm, weather patterns, soil types, and which seeds to plant. Only after harvest do they now figure out where to market.
Due to the perishability of the produce, farmers have to learn the dynamics of the market to succeed, usually using rapid and aggressive online marketing to make sales. Education plays a key role in knowledge, awareness, and marketing. The more skilled farmers are in these areas, the better their chances of building a sustainable business.
2. Farmers still depend on offline markets
Online platforms connect farmers to the market, but they still depend on offline markets for pricing, understand the evolving client needs, find B2B markets, bidding, tap into niche markets and product showcases.
3. Young farmers are rewriting the narrative of farming
Youth farmers are using digital platforms to encourage more young people to join the sector. They use digital technology as an evangelist platform to change the stereotype of farming, viewed as designed for older or rural people. They also showcase the farming process that more people would understand the rigorous process and now appreciate the work rather than bargain for lower prices.
4. The farming sector does have barriers for inclusivity
Women farmers described how digital channels can level the playing field, an aspect they appreciated. Some mentioned implied sexism, especially in offline markets, leading to a preference for online channels.
Most farms are situated outside urban areas due to the availability of vast and arable land, but markets are largely within towns and cities, where farmers can find more clients and sell for better prices.
The farmers here are likely still the exception, not the rule, in Kenya. They are relatively early adopters of these digital practices, and as such, are perhaps better educated, more connected, slightly more urban, and slightly more tolerant to risk-taking than other farmers might be. But they are also pioneers, illustrating ways in which platform livelihoods are a possibility for the farming sector.
We found farmers engaged with platforms in several settings: 1) Some live in urban areas with their farms situated in rural areas. They serve the urban areas because that is where their market is; 2) Semi-urban farmers live and work in semi-urban areas and look for markets in urban towns; 3) Rural farmers, most likely educated in urban areas, return to their rural homes after graduation to manage the farm.
The twelve elements of platform livelihoods demonstrate that participation in digital markets and spaces is more than simply a transaction. It is a set of practices: social, learning, and transactional. Digital platforms can involve frustrations and a fair amount of hustle, but also agency, flexibility, and the promise of better earnings for farmers.
Explore the report results on other sectors
Logistics – Fast-paced work, driven by the algorithm. Structured weekly earnings, support in bookkeeping, budgeting, and saving.
MSEs – Experiences with platform sales (via formal marketplaces, social commerce, paid and free online advertising).
Creatives – Digital channels as a source of inspiration, distribution, and a platform to educate audiences on the value of art.
Crosscutting themes – Reflection on cross-cutting themes around rurality, gender, inclusion for differently-abled people, and fractional work.
This platform livelihoods research was conducted by Qhala in collaboration with Caribou Digital and in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation.