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Online marketplaces win big in the wake of Covid-19

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BRIAN OKINDA

By BRIAN OKINDA
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Bernard Musyo, who keeps kienyeji chickens in Ruai, on the outskirts of Nairobi, had no problem selling his eggs and birds before the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). He would take them to two hotels in the sprawling residential settlement every week.

But when the government issued the order to close the businesses to curb the spread of Covid-19, a market that he had relied on for over three years was shuttered.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Musyo decided to sell his produce online — a channel that he had shunned “to avoid fraudsters”.

Musyo is one of the farmers and consumers alike who have turned to online marketplaces to sell and buy produce due to Covid-19 disruptions.

The digital channels are turning out to be one of the biggest winners during the Covid-19 pandemic as people seek alternative selling and buying points to keep social distance.

Joseph Macharia, the founder of Mkulima Young, a leading online agriculture marketplace, says the site has seen a surge in the number of users in the recent weeks.

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“Virtual marketing and shopping have increased tremendously on our platform, not only in Kenya but also in other African countries like Malawi, Zambia, Uganda and South Africa.”

He observes that more sellers are using online platforms to market their goods as some buyers who would rather walk to mama mbogas similarly get used to the platforms.

“Online marketplaces ease consumers’ access to produce, which saves them time and resources. Farmers also find an easy channel to sell their produce at a good price than through brokers,” he says.

New habits and practices, he says, are emerging among consumers and farmers through the use of the platforms.

“More buyers and sellers now want to have direct contact with each other. Business is about relationships. They will always inquire about the contacts.”

Nelly Lagat, the chief executive of Famobile, a farmers’ e-commerce platform, says the pandemic has brought opportunities to their businesses.

“Yes, there has been an increase in the use of our services that demand exceeds supply. The epidemic has inadvertently become a blessing in disguise to online marketplaces.”

The platform, which has vendors in different towns, including Nairobi and Eldoret, currently has a number of verified farmers in its system, says Lagat.

“These farmers churn out virtually all types of farm produce and the goods are delivered by riders to consumers. The farmers no longer need to reach out to brokers or take their produce to the market,” she notes.

Alex Mengo, the founder of Farmers Market Kenya (FMK), notes that despite lockdowns and containments, people still have to eat fresh and healthy food.

“And online marketplaces are playing a key role in the sale of fresh eggs, milk, fish, vegetables, meat and other food produce. In the wake of the coronavirus, online marketplaces are the way to go as one is able to maintain social distance while shopping or selling on the sites.”

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Going by the increasing numbers of farmers who are using the platforms, Macharia notes that the coronavirus will change the way people sell and buy agricultural produce.

“The coronavirus has disrupted almost every aspect of how we do things. Going by the increasing number of farmers who are using our platform, I believe online trading would become the norm post-coronavirus.”

He offers that people are becoming more conscious of where their food is coming from and are seeking to know their farmers, what online marketplaces offer as they link buyers and sellers.

“They are getting used to that and if the crisis persists in the next two to three months because it doesn’t seem the restrictions will be lifted any time soon, then the place of online marketplaces will be cemented in the sector.”

The three advise shoppers to observe due diligence to ensure their safety, that they do not lose money and that they get the correct measure of what they purchase.

“While it is difficult to ensure utmost safety in most online transactions, selling farm produce through the internet comes with a level of honesty and trustworthy,” Mengo says.

For Macharia, he says Mkulima Young ensures they deal with only registered and verified farmers.

“Users can also rate the seller and the buyer. We are also working on ways to improve individual profiles so that we also know our customers,” says Macharia, noting that these measures can be replicated elsewhere to ensure safety.

Lagat adds that because they deal directly with consumers through vendors and those who deliver goods, they are able to ensure good business practices.

“We also have plans to use a select set of vendors like mama mbogas who are ready to be engaged in supplies of produce from particular farms. This aims at making product tracing possible.”

Going forward, the three foresee a situation where online marketplaces will improve food safety.

“Consumers are getting to know their farmers because the broker has been cut off, which improves food safety,” says Macharia, adding that both buyers and sellers are realising the cost-effectiveness of using online marketplaces, which supersede the conventional models of doing business.

  1. Online marketing channels give you more room to comply with the safety measure on social distancing, since there is minimal physical contact with buyers as you sell from the comfort of your home and observe curfew time.
  2. Online sites are slowly becoming the preferred sale-and-buy marketplaces. You can leverage them by posting an ad for your farm produce.





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