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By Jacky Achan

A mobile phone supported auction system that enables real time agricultural market analysis – Kudu, is continuing to empower farmers in Uganda to successfully and profitably sell their agricultural produce to available markets.

Kenneth Bwire, a member of the Artificial Intelligence in the Developing World (AI-DEV) research group from Makerere University College of Computing and Information Sciences, that developed the system which links traders and buyers remarked while commenting on the performance of the mobile powered system so far.

He says from 2010 the Kudu team started looking at past price data for agricultural produce in Uganda, and noticed large price discrepancies which indicated problems with efficiency in the market.

“Kudu began with research looking at how to use mobile technology to make agricultural markets more effective in Uganda using three languages that include English, Luo and Luganda,” he says.

“The SMS exchanges between buyers and traders are free on Kudu which has strengthened its success and enabled us sustain the system through a small commission remitted for using the system,” he adds.

Bwire explains before Kudu farmers faced problems in finding buyers for their produce, and were threatened with decay of their goods when no buyers could be found and often having little negotiating power.

He says traders faced uncertainty in being able to locate produce, relying on word-of-mouth networks whereas mobile price advisory services provided some help, particularly to farmers, but seemed to have problems with accuracy and timeliness.

Adding Conventional auction or listings services were not accessible to the majority of farmers and traders in Uganda who have basic phones with SMS functionality only.

The insight behind Kudu was that rather than providing a listing of items offered which buyers could bid on (known as a single auction), a different type of system called a double auction was adopted for being more appropriate to users with basic phones.

In this type of auction, buyers and sellers separately communicate their requirements and the prices they are willing to trade at. The system then periodically clears the market, matching compatible buyers and sellers.

Bwire explains the traders only have to send a single text message, and the system takes into account price, location and other factors to automatically find the best matches.

Google provided support for development in the form of a Research Award in 2011, and the system went live in 2012 as a free service.

Bwire says holding continuous meetings with groups of farmers combined with radio broadcasts and other forms of publicity, has fostered rapid user growth, and the system is increasingly matching large numbers of buyers and sellers across Uganda daily.

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