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Uganda farmers will need plows ... and smart phones

Entrepreneur makes market data available digitally to farmers so they make better business decisions

Infotrade has put its money where its mouth is. Now in its third year of operation, the company gathers and disseminates wholesale and retail prices for over 45 commodities in more than 20 locations around the country, using a network of locally based researchers to compile the data.

The data team updates the prices three times a week, and the information is made available online, at village notice boards, on the radio, and perhaps most importantly, by text message. With 10 million Ugandans already owning a mobile phone, and a fast-growing mobile penetration rate, soon all farmers will in theory be a push of a button away from knowing the market price of their crop at the same cost as a short phone call.

But there remains a major challenge to encourage some farmers to see the value not only in viewing their operation as a business, but also in using data to help them become better businessmen.

Some catch on quickly and reap the benefits: a healthy enterprise means they can afford school fees, transport costs, household items and investments back into the business. Others lack the education or impetus to break with traditional farming practices and therefore require more support from local farmers’ groups and NGOs.

Infotrade’s ambition doesn’t end with price information. The company aims to make data available to farmers covering every link in the value chain, from costs associated with seeds, fertilizer, tools, machinery, ancillary services, and distribution, all the way to the price a customer pays for a bunch of matooke at the market stall.

The task may seem daunting, but Kintu and his team are working with the support of government, district farmers’ organizations, input suppliers, commodity buyers, international donors and local and international NGOs. This is something of a rare case in aid-saturated Uganda where all stakeholders are focusing on a single goal: to digitize Ugandan agriculture.

Stewart K Kelly is an international affairs master’s candidate at The Fletcher School, Tufts University. He is co-founder of the Fletcher Africa Business Group, and a research associate at Fletcher’s Center for Emerging Market Enterprises. Stewart spent the summer with Infotrade in Kampala, Uganda, as a marketing and product development consultant. He can be contacted at