Building a High-Tech Trading Platform for Smallholder Farmers in Uganda

Researchers: Craig McIntosh (GPS), Lauren Falcao (UC Berkeley), Paul Gertler (UC Berkeley), and Richard Ssekibuule (Makerere University)
Location: Uganda

In the face of growing food demand from a rapidly growing population, African agricultural markets remain highly divided with lop-sided flow of information on prices, numerous intermediaries in the supply chain, and prices that greatly fluctuate over time and across the region.

Using highly scalable technologies, researchers aim to develop a suite of tools and methods that both measure the shallowness in African food markets and offer solutions for market deepening.

This three-pronged study works to simultaneously alter the intermediaries, the information, and the contracting options available in food markets. Agrinet, the major private-sector supply chain company in Uganda, will roll out a randomized expansion of their services across the country. Innovations for Poverty Action will implement a high-frequency market price survey using innovative short message service (SMS)-based tools developed specifically for the project, and feed these prices back to traders and farmers via SMS. Lastly, the research team will collaborate with computer scientists at Makerere University to roll out Kudu, a locally developed digital food-trading platform to allow farmer groups in the study to contract directly with major buyers.

With this multifaceted approach, researchers hope to protect the food security of consumers who face expensive or unavailable grain supplies during the lean season, as well as promote more integrated markets, with smoother food supply across seasons and improved livelihoods for smallholder farmers.

Results

So far the project has successfully fielded a major randomized controlled trial, including training and certifying AgriNet commission agents in 210 parishes (55 subcounties), conducting Farmer and Trader Baseline surveys on over 4,500 subjects across treatment and control (110 subcounties), a biweekly market survey collecting information on four crops across 280 markets, and is continually running experiments on trader credit, buyer guarantees, and the use of an SMS Blast system that is sending out ~100K messages a month to distribute price information and market the Kudu platform. Researchers anticipate two more seasons during which the system will be continually upgraded as a part of the research and development phase of the collaboration, after which Kudu and AgriNet will take their partnership to scale.