New Software to Aid Farmers Resolve Marketing Woes in Tanzania
He left Tanzania in 1965 at the age of 18 and headed to Russia to pursue a degree course in telecommunications engineering. This was to lead to a Master of Science and a doctorate degree in the same field by 1980. After graduation he held various executive positions in a number of globally renowned technology institutions.
Meet Raymond Rugemalira, a man of many hats. He is currently on a different mission angled on a field that rides on his principal technology related profession. For the past five years, Dr Rugemalira, a Tanzanian national, has been making visits from his home in the US to East Africa in search of a technology solution that will aid farmers make the best out of their investments.
"My parents and family members are farmers. It has not been pleasing to see how they get exploited by unscrupulous middlemen," he says while answering to the source of motivation behind his new-found career path.
His last position in employment was associate professor at Azusa Pacific University in southern California in the US. Before then he had worked at the Telecommunications Research Centre in Finland, a research scientist at Helsinki University of Technology and at IBM where he worked as a senior development scientist for two years.
Now, by employing his talent in technology, Dr Rugemalira is among the 14 winners of a competition sponsored by USAid and Western Union through the African Diaspora Market Place held in January last year. The competition attracted 738 competitors each submitting their creative development idea.
Dr Rugemalira submitted his invention Uza Mazao (Swahili for sale produce) software that enable farmers and farm produce buyers to meet in a virtual market. Being a winner meant that he gets Sh8.3 million ($100,000) as prize money to deploy his idea but on condition that he contributes an equal amount to the investment. "The prize had to be topped up with an equal amount viewed as 'sweat equity' from the winner," he says.
His presence in Kenya and the rest of the East African countries is to promote Uza Mazao, a product of E&M Capital Corporation, a company he began while still employed as an associate professor in 2005.
Among other projects that the company has undertaken since its inception is designing the national fibre optic network backbone for Rwanda and a Real Time pandemic monitor, a health software that is used to evaluate disease burden. "Uza Mazao has been developed from Real Time crop monitor that existed together with Real Time pandemic monitor," says Dr Rugemalira.
Aimed at creating a meeting point for buyers and sellers, the software requires that users are subscribed so that they can send requests for sale or purchase to the operator who in turn ensures that they are connected.
Subscription to the service is free and can be done from a computer or mobile phone.
However, users will have to part with Sh10 when making requests once the service is fully operational. From September last year to date, he has registered 3,000 farmers in Kenya who include both individuals and groups. They are mainly drawn from Meru, Narok, Murang'a and Limuru dealing with a range of produce that include maize, wheat, mangoes and bananas and poultry products.
"I thought it wise to start by registering farmers. It would be frustrating to have buyers in a market without sellers. With the farmers ready I will be able to approach the buyers," he says.
Already, talks are underway with local supermarket chains and hotels who he says have tentatively agreed to try the product.
Locally, agriculture experts have often raised concerns over the marketing systems available for locally produced agricultural commodities. While some view the marketing structures as being beneficial to large-scale farmers who have the capacity to attract reliable marketing outlets, others say that such systems have led to low incomes for small-scale farmers.
Similar to the software developed by Dr Rugemalira is a system by the Kenya Agricultural Commodities Exchange that enables farmers and potential buyers to subscribe and get information regarding the price of produce on a daily basis.