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09 May 2014

Digital agricultural clearing house to launch in Jamaica

Senior Reporter
Jamaica’s first digital agricultural clearing house using SMS to Web technology will launch in August, connecting small farmers with buyers.

Jamaica’s first digital agricultural clearing house using SMS to Web technology will launch in August, connecting small farmers with buyers.

Called Agrocentral, it uses an eBay-like model that allows farmers to alert buyers via SMS when they have a crop they wish to sell, helping them cut out the middleman, earn higher margins and gauge supply and demand in the market, according to founder and CEO Jermaine Henry.

Farmers simply send an SMS to a central website, quoting the type of product on offer, the quantity available and their desired price. Buyers can either view these posts on the www.agrocentral.co website or – if a farmer is selling a kind of crop they have registered interest in buying – will also receive a direct SMS. They can then contact farmers directly to negotiate a deal.

In the same way, buyers that want to buy a certain crop can send a buying request to the website. The request will be relayed directly to all registered farmers that produce that crop using SMS. Buyers can access full profiles of registered farmers, including their location, crops grown and supply capability.

The most obvious benefit to farmers is that they can quickly find a market for their often perishable goods, says Henry, who was inspired to launch the service by the experiences of his grandfather, a smallholder farmer.

Being able to see prices pitched by both buyers and other farmers also empowers them – they are able to build a picture of true market prices and are less likely to be exploited – Henry says. Removing the middleman meanwhile improves farmer margins and allows buyers to save time and money sourcing produce.

Agrocentral is free to use for farmers but they pay a 5-10% transaction fee on all deals done. Buyers pay a subscription.

The site has potential for a number of different revenue streams, says 23-year-old Henry, who won the Start-Up Weekend event in Jamaica for his work with Agrocentral.

These include selling information - for example yields, crop availability, price fluctuations or supply and demand data - to other agricultural stakeholders. Agrocentral will also help farmers increase their yields and protect their crops by supplying them with information – for example updates on the weather or disease outbreak - direct to their mobile phones.

As its customer base grows, it plans to launch Web to SMS/SMS to Web marketing services, for example to banks and finance providers that want access to potential customers.

Agrocentral also aims to expand beyond Jamaica within two years, connecting farmers with buyers in other countries so they can find export markets for their produce.

Agrocentral will attend Fin4Ag conference in Nairobi this July. It will demonstrate the platform and outline future plans for the company at the event’s Plug and Play Day on Monday July 14. To register for Fin4Ag, visit http://www.fin4ag.org/en/registration.html

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