This is a story of what started as crazy idea turning into a realistic work. A group of passionate hackers, developers, I.T enthusiast and fans of hackathons meet at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology with a main goal of solving various problems affecting communities. Now for those not familiar with the word ‘hackathon’, it is actually a meeting of the said groups that team up to try to solve a particular problem within 48 hours. The main task therefore is identifying a problem.
I had attended such an event before so this wasn’t a new deal for me. I took my time in trying to settle on a perfect proposal to work on then immediately noticed a lady had been flanked by a couple of guys. Curiosity got the best of me and couldn’t resist joining the group keenly listening as the lady explained what she had in store. Turned out to be some kind of a solution to the problem farmers do encounter in trying to settle on market prices for their produce. Honestly at this point the whole idea didn’t seem that catchy to me so I resorted to finding another serious problem on the internet. I failed. Nothing came up. Guys who had seen loopholes made specs of what they came up with and it was up to the rest of the crew to make a decision on who to join in accomplishing the task at hand.
Still undecided, we went for lunch then and it was at this time I got to meet Jane. She made it clear to me how the situation was on the ground for farmers. Jane had been in the country for well over a year now and had volunteered to be posted in rural Ukambani to pitch base there and feed her organization on the happenings. What interested me was the fact that she had let go an otherwise well-off life in upcountry west of New York to months of hardships at a rural village in Kenya. The question was in the period her stay there, had she learned something? Apparently, yes. It dawned on her how local farmers had it difficult in trying to settle of the right market prices for their farm produce.
The turning point; I was now more than sure that this is something I would love to see solved. Together with a friend, we pledged to help her quest and soon a couple of guys joined us to form a team of nine. 30 or so hours later, Lipwa Poa was born. We settled on the name Lipwa Poa because our main aim here was trying to see farmers get a fair share of their handwork and evade being exploited by middlemen. It wasn’t that easy though. First, the option of Internet was ruled out since a larger share of local farmers doesn’t have access to Internet. Consequently, a web-based or mobile application was out of topic. We needed to come up with a text-based service since most farmers do have phones with minimum features as compared to the smartphones. We also settled on a framework to work on and brought our heads together on how the structure of our database would be like. I’m not going to go deeper into the system but at the end, our system was up and running. We set up a gateway, did a test, saw it passing and got to marvel at what we had accomplished.
Now the system would see farmers register with us, post prices of their commodities in various locations and be able to retrieve prices of various commodities in their market regions. All this done via short message service (sms) with a specific format. Sending messages for registration at normal charge rate and posting prices at a fee of ksh. 5 bob per sms, our business model was all inclusive. The service would also offer a platform for firms in the sector to advertise various products to the registered farmers.
The journey could be long but we’ve achieved half or greater part of it. Our wish is to see the system operational so that farmers ‘walipwe poa’. You better watch out, Lipwa Poa could be out anytime soon!