Farmers go digital

  • Lifestyle
  • Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Farmers now have the option of tapping markets through cyber technology, thanks to a government initiative.

WHEN we partake of a meal, most of us have only one thought in mind – that it is a satisfying one. Do we ever spare a thought for the hard-working folks who toiled on the land and trawled the sea to help get that food on our tables?

After all that sweat and tears, farmers and fishermen expect to reap the rewards. But quite a number have no avenue to sell their produce directly to the consumers. This is where the middlemen take advantage and buy cheaply from them, after which they gain substantial profits selling the produce to the public. Without the middlemen, the farmers and fishermen would obtain a just dividend for their efforts, while the public would actually get cheaper vegetables, fruits and marine produce.

The Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (Fama) has for many years made that partially possible by organising pasar tani (farmer’s markets) in many localities throughout the country. But still, it allows individuals to source their grocery supplies only on the days the market is open for business.

Fama, though, is looking at the bigger picture and wants to connect the farmers to prospective buyers 24/7 – the possibility arose when the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) approached the authority with an innovative idea to compile the information of the farmers selling their produce at pasar tani in a database that consumers could access online.

Registration is done at the markets with a smart card application developed by MSC Malaysia that captures the relevant data of each farmer using his or her MyKad.

“With the go-ahead from the National Registration Department, we were allowed to access open (non-confidential) data of the farmers who are registered under the pasar tani scheme. Using a mobile smart reader, the chip in their MyKad is updated with data like the type of produce these farmers sell and the locations of the pasar tani they are at,” explained MDeC chief executive officer Datuk Badlisham Ghazali.

This is then captured in a database using the SDVI (supply demand virtual information) software developed to handle the application that is called e-pasartani@FAMA. After its launch in May last year, a pilot project was carried out at four pasar tani. It has now been expanded to cover most of the 273 sites nationwide.

The programme has been upped a notch and at an official launch in Kota Marudu, Sabah, the latest innovations were introduced to the farmers there. The first is called e-GeoFarmer@FAMA.

“The e-GeoFarmer@FAMA groups farmers by parliamentary boundary. Additionally, fundamental information and statistics will be made available by district within the parliamentary boundary,” said Fama deputy director-general (development) Sahbani Saimin.

The two schemes target the same group for registration. Since all applications for pasar tani licences as well as their renewal will be registered under either scheme, ultimately all traders will eventually be registered.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili who launched the new application at Kota Marudu noted that it will benefit both farmers and consumers. Now they will know where a particular produce is available and also the means to look for competitive prices.

At the farmer’s market in Kota Marudu, there were quite a number of stalls set up with various produce, from fresh vegetables, fruits and fish to processed food items. Among the traders were the pasar tani chairman Peter Chan and his younger sister Florence. Between their two stalls, they seemed to offer every known vegetable and fruit available in the country and more.

“Of course I registered for the programme as this way, more people will know what I produce and can contact me directly now. They don’t even have to come to the pasar tani any more. I hope this way I can now earn more because I have more orders and will get better prices,” said Chan.

All the traders The Star spoke to that day echoed the same enthusiastic expectations. Some even declared they were prepared to deal with orders from the peninsula if they were big enough.

This conviction was heightened with another innovation introduced that day. Both producers registered under the scheme and buyers would be able to access the SMS buyer-producer service.

With this service, either party need only send an SMS to the administrator, namely Fama, for details of produce (type, quantity, pricing and location) and contact information. This would enable buyers to go directly to the source.

According to Sahbani, there are other programmes in the pipeline, one to cater to fruit sellers, while two others will be for participants of the Ministry of Agriculture contract farming and those utilising Fama’s operation centres. Eventually the e-GeoFarmer will be the primary database.

One of the benefits of the programmes is to reduce oversupply in one area. The idea is that with the info in hand, competing sellers of one produce could go to another locality that was under-stocked with that particular produce. But who decides who stays and who goes?

“Fama’s role here is to disseminate information pertaining to market situations. Ultimately, the decision on how to best reap benefits from such information lies with the traders, albeit with Fama’s advice,” said Sahbani.

There are still some kinks to be worked out in the programmes. Some of the traders’ MyKad, for example, are old ones with the 32K chip, which do not have the space to store the data.

Other than that the system is good to go and by visiting, anyone can access the information.

While officials claim the feedback from some farmers is that their revenue has gone up considerably because of the programme, it is still early days. Let’s hope the farmers reap what they sow.

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