Farmer Hamis Birika cycles for a full hour to reach the telecentre in Kilosa, central Tanzania. But the trip is worth it. Because of the telecentre, he can now buy inputs at a fair price, and find buyers for his produce.
Mr. Birika recalls, “Last season I was producing watermelons, but they got a disease.” One of the trained assistants at the telecentre advised him how to control the disease. She helped him order the correct product from Dar es Salaam. Then, as Mr. Birika explains, the telecentre helped him sell his melons: “I sold the watermelons through the advertising space on the market price board [outside the centre] and paid a commission to the centre.”
Kilosa is a rural town of around 20,000 people in the Morogoro Region. It lies about 350 kilometres from Dar es Salaam, with the last eighty kilometres on unpaved road. The telecentre is known as KIRSEC, short for the Kilosa Rural Services and Electronic Communication Centre. It is the brainchild of Mark Farahani, a soil and water conservation specialist and entrepreneur.
Mr. Farahani laughs when he remembers the old days: “Before getting internet in Kilosa, I had to travel four hours to Morogoro to get connected, sometimes to discover that I had no new messages! I had to spend the night. So it cost me a lot of time and money.” These long trips to the internet café convinced Mr. Farahani to open a telecentre in Kilosa.
Since 2004, he has been the proud owner of KIRSEC. The centre now provides full secretarial services, internet access, a market price information service, and rents out solar equipment and laptops.
Every day, farmers come from all over the district to use the telecentre’s services. Mr. Farahani says, “The information most valued is market prices of nearby markets.” This type of information is not available online. So the telecentre posts it outside on a notice board. KIRSEC acts as an information hub for nine markets in the district, collecting and disseminating prices by phone and text message.
Apart from information services, the centre also provides agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilizer and insecticide, sold in small quantities to suit the wallets of individual farmers.
KIRSEC is part of the Tanzania Telecentre Network, an internet platform shared by telecentres all over Tanzania. Mr. Farahani is also part of the Linking Learners network, where he is learning how to develop business strategies to help farmers reach markets. His next plan is to launch televideo conferences to help farmers in East Africa and further afield interact with each other.
Mary Richard Ng’unga has a small shop where she stocks a number of local products. She sells sunflower oil from Gairo, a town in Kilosa district. She also sells flour, banana wine and rosella wine, produced by her own farmer group. KIRSEC provides information on how to obtain certification for her local produce and prints labels for some of her products. Her dream is to sell products from Kilosa all over Tanzania. With the telecentre close at hand, she is already working to make her dream a reality.