Technology in agriculture
The mobile phone has been touted as the gadget that will drive agriculture as the world turns digital. But not everybody will tell you how it does that with the expected results. There are so many apps and applications that have been developed for farmers both by companies and individuals. However, one farmers’ organization has excelled in this area and it is revolutionizing how information through mobile phones is making positive change in the agriculture sector and changing the lives of farmers.
Kenya Livestock Producers Association (KLPA) was registered in 2004 as a farmers’ organization to lobby and advocate on policy issues. It’s presence in the whole country gave it an advantage of interacting with farmers hence getting to understand their needs and possible solutions. has changed the farming scene by having a presence all over the country. The result has been interaction with millions of farmers hence getting to know their needs. Patrick Kimani is the CEO of KLPA and emphasizes about technology in farming. “Technology is changing agriculture and as KPLA we are delighted to be leading from the front,” says Kimani.
Due to their presence in the whole country and being farmer-centric, KPLA was approached by Safaricom to operate their farming mobile platform known as Digifarm. “We have held over 400 farmers trade fairs all over the country giving them a forum to learn. At the moment we have registered about 1.3 million farmers in Digifarm and the numbers keep increasing,” he adds.
Farmers use their phones whether smartphones or not to register as Digifarm members. They are then qualified to enjoy various benefits that come with membership. Members don’t need to go looking for agronomists to get agronomical advice and tips on how they can improve their production. This is because they can ask any question using their phones and receive timely expert advice from experts who are always ready to answer them through the platform. They have also trained Digifarm Village Advisors (DVAs) who visit farmers in the villages and help them in solving any problem they have and also offer expert advice.
Kimani says that provision of crop insurance to the farmers has been a game-changer as this was something that was not common in the past. Farmers access insurance against adverse weather effects and also soil contamination in their farms. This has been very beneficial to small scale farmers who could only dream of such products in the past as they were not affordable. “Since we deal with small scale farmers, accessing inputs was also a challenge and we came in to address that. Today they can access inputs in over 500 branded agro-vets all over the country which we are also planning to increase. Through these, we can make sure the farmers access quality and affordable inputs at a discounted price,” says Kimani. Frequent training is also organized to update the farmers as technology changes with time. Farmers also learn about new farming techniques and new opportunities.
Contract farming which was hard for small scale farmers to practice has also been made easy through Digifarm. Cases of small-scale farmers suffering losses after contracting companies disappeared were not new but now, they have a solution. They research on behalf of Digifarm members and ensure there is a ready market for their produce. They then seek for a commitment from buyers and negotiate for a good price for the farmers.
“Some of the companies we are working with include Bidco, Unga Limited, East Africa Breweries Limited (EABL), and Twiga Foods. Farmers have been contracted to grow sunflower, soya beans, maize among other crops. Farmers are happy since they receive their pay immediately, they deliver their produce,” says Kimani. Some farmers have also planted sorghum and Green grams (Ndengu)
Digifarm also offers its members soil testing services at a discounted price compared to market prices. “Our mobile soil testing kits are modern which means the soil tests are conducted in the farm and the farmer accesses the results within five minutes,” says the CEO