Mobile apps to help Kenyan farmers shape new future
NAIROBI – When she wants to know what seed variety to grow, Josephine Mutuku would take up her smartphone, open an app and types in the name of the crop and its region of cultivation.
Mutuku, 38, is a farmer in Kenya's Machakos county. Once she gets the information, Mutuku can then choose the seeds and pay via mobile money or take credit, all through the app.
The same thing happens if she needs to buy fertilizers, pesticides or any other farm inputs, which can be delivered to her via courier services. And later on, as the crops grow, Mutuku can learn more about the market of her produce, such as tomatoes, also through the app.
Mutuku is among a growing number of Kenyan farmers who have embraced digital farming solutions that are changing the east African nation's agribusiness scene.
The platforms are delivering solutions to farmers' fingertips, with experts noting that they represent the future of agribusiness in the country.
This is because they are not only offering solutions to farmers faster, but also pulling the youth into agribusiness, a move that is boosting Kenya's quest to be food-secure.
"Digital farming is definitely the future of agribusiness in Kenya. These technologies are opening up vast untapped potential for farmers, investors, and entrepreneurs to improve efficiency of food production and consumption," Fred Kiio, head of M-Agribusiness at Safaricom, Kenya's leading telecommunication firm, said in a recent interview.
Kiio said digital technology has changed many sectors of Kenya's economy and that agriculture is quickly catching up. "With a smartphone, laptop and the internet, perceptions have been changed towards farming, with more young people venturing into it," he said. "This is also expected to contribute to the country's efforts in achieving food security."
Safaricom is among the companies in Kenya that have invested in digital farming technologies. "Our platform is called DigiFarm, and is an integrated, free-to-use mobile app that offers smallholder farmers access to a suite of information and financial services, including discounted products, customized information on farming best practices, and access to credit and other financial facilities," Kiio said.
Through the platform, farmers access e-extension services, quality inputs, credit and insurance, market facilitation and post-harvest loss management. Kenyan farmers, according to Kiio, face numerous challenges such as lack of access to finance, information, market and approved farm inputs.
"Only digital technology has the ability to reach the millions of farmers and deliver these solutions that include guaranteed access to high-quality inputs, affordable credit and trusted agricultural information," he said. Safaricom's DigiFarm platform has 950,000 registered members countrywide, Kiio said.
In addition to Safaricom's, there are more than other 20 farming apps in Kenya, and over a million farmers are believed to be using them. Not only the private sector is embracing digital platforms to reach farmers.
Kenya's Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries is running a free SMS service through which farmers can access information.
"Signs of fall armyworms attack include tiny holes in the maize funnel, ragged holes on leaves and orange saw-dust like dropping," one recent SMS read.
"If you find armyworm in your maize , pick and drown then in soapy water. Crush all egg masses, mix ash, sand and apply to the funnel."