Role of digital platforms in maintaining the value chains of vegetable, root and tuber crops functional in the face of Covid-19. Research Report

COVID-19 pandemic has had a far-reaching impact along the agricultural value chains in Kenya. The Kenyan
government placed drastic impact measures to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections, which affected the
value chain actors differently. To counter the economic mayhem caused by the pandemic, the usefulness of
digital platforms has been amplified in agricultural value chains, especially in vegetables, root and tubers. It is
not clear if, how and to what extent the existing digital platforms developed by several private companies or
supported by donors have contributed and are still contributing to maintaining agri-food chains functional and
securing the livelihoods of associated value chain actors in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMIC) countries
during COVID 19 pandemic. It is on the foregoing that International Potato Center (CIP) implemented a study to
understand the role of digital platforms in maintaining the value chains of vegetable, root and tuber crops
functional in the face of COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya.
Web-based portal, Android mobile App and Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) Short code
services were the main digital platforms of focus. The study was built on case studies from Viazi Soko (NCPK)
digital platform for farmers, Twiga food for traders and Soko Kijiji groceries digital platform for consumers. A
participatory research methodology was used to integrate the desktop research, key informant/expert
interviews, focus group discussion (FGD) and the surveys involving various value chain actors along the food
value chain i.e., traders, transporters, consumers, and farmers. The study adopted mixed method approach with
concurrent nested option. Both Quantitative and qualitative data were collected. Quantitative aspects of the
study were collected using a structured questionnaire administered through face-to-face interviews to solicit
primary information from 355 consumers, 100 traders and 370 farmers in the targeted sub-counties selected
using multistage sampling technique. Quantitative data obtained was analyzed using Stata version 17 and SPSS
version 28.0 to generate descriptive statistics. Propensity Score Matching was used to estimate the impact of
the digital platforms on (i) the quantity of certified potato seeds used and (ii) the average weekly household
expenditure on vegetables and fruits during the lockdown period. Structural equation model (SEM) was used to
investigate (i) how producers’ personality traits influence the usage of ViaziSoko for accessing quality farm Inputs
and services and (ii) the role of entrepreneurial behavior in influencing use of digital platform in food purchase
among consumers. For farmers, findings indicated that awareness and use of the digital platforms is still low.
Approximately 32% of the interviewed farmers were aware of the digital platforms. Majority (86.55%) of those
aware were medium and large-scale farmers.
The use of apps through a mobile phone was the most preferred digital platform by roughly 91% of the farmers.
The ease of accessing input information/services and awareness of digital application inspired the use of digital
platforms. Farmers’ attitude and proactiveness influenced perceived usefulness of the digital platforms. Despite
being in existence even before the pandemic, most of the farmers started using digital platforms in response to
the pandemic. Relatively, majority of farmers (32.05%) started using digital platforms to access quality seeds,
while 12.82% started using them to access extension and advisory services on Good Advisory Practices (GAPs)as
well as access to market/output information in response to the pandemic. The digital intervention contributed
significantly to the increase in the frequency of use of digital platforms. The greatest increase in the frequency
was observed in the services related to access to market/output information 3.85% (from 19.23% to 23.08%),
extension and advisory services on GAPs 6.41% (from 16.67% to 23.08%) as well as pest and disease advisory
services 6.41% (from 12.82% to 19.23%) respectively. The digital platform showed a gradual role in bridging the
gap in terms of input access by farmers during the pandemic and approximately 95% of the interviewed farmers
confirmed their intention to continue using the digital platforms (ViaziSoko) beyond the pandemic.
For traders, the results revealed that most of them had procured their supplies over the mobile phone (91%)
and through online platform (81%). On average, a single trader dealt in 16 different products. Vegetables was
the most traded commodity across the three tie periods of analysis compared to roots and tubers. Fear or worry
of getting infected with COVID-19 and liquidity constrain were the major threats affecting the business. Most of
the traders procured their supplies from Nakuru before and during COVID-19 (77.97% and 88.52%). The increase
in supplies during COVID-19 for Nakuru county resulted from Twiga foods supplies. Other traders procured their
supplies from Nyandurua, Meru and Narok county. The quantity of vegetables and fruits sold to direct
consumers, brokers/agents and sold to other outlets increased during COVID-19. Most traders (90.12%) started
using online platform and 82.35% social media in response to the pandemic. Despite being the most adopted
strategy in response to the pandemic, about 15% of traders are likely to cease or reduce the use of mobile
phones to procure their supplies. This could be attributed to the high transaction costs involved in making
payments for the supplies. Further, based on the perishability nature of agricultural products, traders would
wish to physically see and choose products before making payments. Major sales and distribution strategies
used in response to the pandemic are sales and distribution through social media (54.55%) and online platform
(66.67%). Majority of traders (86%) reported to have made payments and financing electronically followed by
advancing products as in-kind/trade creditors (73%) and lending cash to business partners (72%). Change in
business working hours to avoid curfew and travel restrictions (90%) as well as the use of own savings to support
business operation (86%) were the major business adaptation strategies used by traders.
For consumers, about 41% used digital platforms to purchase fruits and vegetables out of which 97% of them
used mobile application. Convenience (95.86%) and fear of health-related complication (84.83%) were the major
motivational factors to use digital platforms. COVID-19 pandemic increased the demand for digital platforms
among 85% of the consumers (where 63% started using and 22% increased the use digital platforms). About
81% of consumers were mainly using digital platforms to access market information. Consumer willingness to
adopt the digital platform was influenced positively by group membership and negatively by age and education
level of the household head and the dependency ratio. Group membership were basically social and informal
groups in the urban areas where among other issues consumers discuss food and digital related issues as well
as procurement strategies) Most consumers (76.56%) purchased fruits and vegetables from designated points
followed by local retailers in the neighborhood (49.26%). Digital platforms gained popularity (from 13.35% to
38.53%) during the pandemic compared to other channels Streetcar booths (2.83%) was a new channel during
the pandemic. Despite reducing popularity during the pandemic, designated markets channel supported about
48% of the proportion of purchase. Users of digital platform experienced fluctuating but above average in the
weekly expenditure compared to their counterparts. Change in price of the vegetables and fruits was the major
contributor to the fluctuation (90.54%). Findings revealed that at one point in time during the pandemic. all
sampled consumers who purchased through the digital platform used mobile money transfer to make pay for
fruits and vegetables, with 99.31% likely to continue using the platform beyond the pandemic. In terms of
entrepreneurial behavior, proactiveness and Innovativeness positively and significantly influenced perceived
behavioral control. This implies that the more a consumer acts in anticipation of future problems, needs, or
changes and use of new ideas or methods, the more they will think of themselves as having the efficacy to use
the digital platforms in purchasing vegetables. Attitude positively and significantly influence perceived
usefulness implying that the more favorable a consumer’s opinion of the vegetables purchasing digital tool is,
the more the consumer will view the tool as useful. Perceived behavioral control influenced perceived usefulness
positively implying that the more consumers considered themselves to have the ability to use the vegetables
purchasing digital tool, the higher they will consider the tool as useful. Subjective norm was also found to
positively and significantly influence perceived usefulness meaning that the more positive the consumer’s peers’
opinion about the vegetables purchasing digital tool is, the more the consumer will view the tool as useful.
The study recommends the following suggestions:
• It is clear agritech companies seeing pandemic is an opportunity for strengthening food value chain.
However, they still lack sustainable business models for the agriculture contexts. Therefore, design for
digital platforms need to integrate sustainable business models to avoid collapsing of the platforms due to
heavy reliance on external support and inadequate revenue models. Adoption of a self-sustainable
business approach as well as re-orienting the business approach towards public private partnerships and
diversifying product/service portfolio by integrating different services and value chains, backward and
forward integration to create new revenue streams provides some of the options for consideration by
service providers.
• Develop a framework for embedding farmer oriented in existing local extension services to support
practical implementation of agronomic recommendations.
• Enhancing entrepreneur behavior of farmers and traders is critical in adoption of agri-digital solutions.
• Building agile business with flexibility to adjust to various shocks beyond the pandemic. Focusing on the
transition post COVID will be critical in maintaining the business space of the digital platforms by building
strong market offering.
• Donor support is critical for digital startups at the beginning of the business as many startups are coming
up during this pandemic time, however, it is critical for donor to analyze their business model for
sustainability of digital platform especially the platforms with little or no commercial orientation but have
a clear welfare gain with social enterprise business model.
• Strong bio-security measures in the context of COVID-19 are important in enhancing trust especially in
product handling by the agricultural digital service providers.
• Combined county permits to allow one easily transaction in any county with fresh produce among digital
platforms with strong cross county distribution of products to traders. This has implication in increasing
cost of business.
• Product differentiation is key in making the digital platforms competitiveness. Strong focus of the digital
platforms in providing unique products and solutions in ever-changing environment is key in keeping pace
with consumers dynamic needs, key among them Enhance interactiveness between agricultural digital
solutions and clients e.g. chatbot
Integrating youth entrepreneurs and higher education students to support development of ICT related agri solutions e.g., accessible database by use of USSD code for vendors to easily authenticate the quality of the
produce as well as data science. This will facilitate creation of robust learning curve to trigger development of
marketable and viable agricultural digital services.

Citation: Ayuya, OI., Adongo, S., Wanjohi, L., and Rajendran S. (2021). Role of digital platforms in maintaining the value chains of vegetable, root and tuber crops functional in the face of Covid-19. Research Report. Lima, Peru: International Potato Center. 17 93 pp.