G-Soko: Has East Africa finally found a solution to excessive importation?

Kenyan-based I.T firm – Virtual City in partnership with Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC) and Food Trade Eastern and Southern Africa Organization recently took steps to ensure a seamless and fast distribution of grain food item in East African countries by launching an ‘agri-tech’ portal called G-Soko, which connects farmers with grain buyers easily and promptly through the automation agricultural crop trading.

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For a while now, countries like Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya have continued to witness an exponential increase in the importation of staple food item, a development that has put the country and local farmers at an economic disadvantage.

Several measures have been taken to protect local producers of food items; one of which is the hike of import duty on rice to 35%. 

Countries like Tanzania, whose economy depends heavily on agriculture (for Tanzania, agriculture accounts for more than 25 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), provides 85 percent of exports, and employs 80 percent of the workforce) can’t wait for G-Soko to be operational in their countries.

According to Mr. Gerald Masila who is the Executive Director of EAGC, the need for G-Soko arose out of the urgency to expand regional food trade across East African countries in an attempt to check the exponential growth of staple food import.

At the launch, Mr. Masila revealed that G-Soko is part of a five-year trade development and promotion programme in the region. In his view, linking rural food production zones in East Africa to urban consumption centres is germane to nip excessive importation in the bud, and that is exactly what G-Soko has come to provide.

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Gerald Masila, Executive Director, EAGC

G-Soko began in Kenya as a pilot project prior to the official launch. During this pilot stage, it attracted the attention of 10 warehouses and 5 banks, an indication of its viability.

G-Soko will not only enable farmers market their produce to would-be buyers in the region at favorable prices, it will facilitate food trade across borders and farmers can also seek financial help by using their grains as collateral on the platform.

Millers will also benefit from this platform through access to quality stocks; standardized and proven grading thus reducing the need to carry out sampling to check quality. Other benefits to farmers include the Grain Bulking System (allows farmers to sell at aggregation centres), reduced post-harvest losses through access to professional storage, cleaning, drying, and improved prices.

However, much as it augurs good for the farmers who have always had to queue endlessly to sell their produce to the Government even without the assurance of it being bought, a major challenge will be sensitizing farmers on how to use the portal.

The G-Soko is now operational in two of the EAC Partner States; Uganda and Kenya with measures underway to extend the system to Tanzania and Rwanda before the Grains Farmers Summit scheduled to take place in Rwanda in early October 2015.

G-Soko joins the league of other innovative ideas like MPESA coming from East Africa in an attempt at using entrepreneurial ingenuity to cater and simplify everyday living.

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