Kenyan farmers embrace mobile applications to enhance productivity

Kenyan farmers are already benefiting from farmer mobile applications transmitting information from scientists, an official has revealed.

Boniface Akuku, the Director of ICT at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), said the mobile applications that are accessible on the Google playstore on smart phones and other internet-enabled devices are already helping bridge the gap between research and practice.

“Since the launch of the three applications, 6,000 farmers have been tracked as they seek information online through the applications,

He noted that 88 active subscriptions from individuals and groups that have seen the importance of the mobile applications have already registered with KALRO.

Akuku said the three applications namely, dryland crops, indigenous chicken and range pastures seed production, were introduced to help farmers acquire information that could enable them to get benefits from farming activity in the absence of extension officers.

“We launched the mobile applications to help transfer science and technologies that we have developed to help enhance agricultural productivity to farmers,” he added.

Akuku said the new technology is being introduced after the failure by the policy reforms that were introduced in the agriculture sector in last two decades.

The reforms, he said recommended the retrenchment of all agricultural extension officers who had been a pillar of agricultural productivity from the farms.

“Contrary to the government’s expectation, the performance of the sector nosedived at the time with annual growth in agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declining,” he added.

But having noted the dangers of operating without extension officers amidst the farmers and having realized poor harvests that has forced the government to import food after a couple of droughts that led to crop failures, the government has now resorted to reaching farmers through mobile phones.

Akuku revealed that one application, ASAL knowledge hub (under Dryland crops mobile application), received recognition during the Planet of the Apps at the Global Disaster Relief and Development Summit in September 2017 that was held in Washington, the United States for being visited by many farmers within Kenya.

The application was named amongst a few Apps that presented some of the latest mobile applications supporting humanitarian programs and disaster relief operations across the world.

“This shows that the uptake is good and that farmers have finally found an easier way of seeking assistance from agricultural experts,” said Akuku.

He said KALRO is developing a theory of mindset change to enable youthful farmers get first-hand information and help them adopt farming as a business and replace the elderly.

He noted that the digitalization of agricultural value chain in Kenya is also assisting farmers in accessing markets, accurate weather information and purchase quality seeds.

He observed that Kenya has embarked on transforming its agriculture as a paradigm shift towards replacing conventional farming systems to populations since they are fast becoming obsolete as new knowledge begin to transform societies globally.

Akuku added that the government is now investing in knowledge and information for overall agricultural and rural development with the maximum use of ICT.

“We are ushering in a new revolution that will lower prices for consumers, contribute to smart agriculture and motivate farmers to increase their production,” he added.

He said KALRO has moved from developing programs to solving problems through the advent of ICT.

He said farmers from Northern Kenya where livestock keeping is the lifeline are now asking for an app on dairy cattle, beef, goats and camels due to its popular milk.

“We are in the process of developing on goats, camel, camel milk value chains that will be launched soon,” Akuku noted.

He said the move follows request from pastoralists from northern Kenya who are the leading livestock keepers in the country.

“It has not been easy for us chicken farmers from the Coastal region when it comes to acquiring information on indigenous chicken that has been improved by KALRO scientists,” said Rehema Juma, a poultry farmer in Kilifi county.

Juma said chicken farmers from the coast region have raised complaints through the online application with success.

She noted that they had been inconvenienced as they were initially forced to travel to Naivasha, 600 kilometers to get information on the rearing of the chicken.

According to Simon Mulwa, an ICT Officer Datacenter Operations, the 500 farmers who visited their stand at the Nairobi Trade Fair last July show that the apps are already gaining ground amongst farmers.

Mulwa noted that there are plans to conduct several field days to help popularize the apps amongst farmers in rural Kenya.

He said a banana app has picked up in Kisii region, South Western Kenya where the crop is grown in plenty.

“The chicken app is growing popular as it has lots of readers from outside Africa,” he added

Mulwa revealed that the apps are also visited by farmers from South Africa, India, Uganda, Tanzania, Sri Lanka and Russia.

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