A great leap forward of the digital farmer in Kenya

Kenya is categorized as an agricultural based economy, and this implies that agriculture is the backbone of the economy.  This cannot be further from the truth as there are over 75% of Kenyans  who make some part of their living from agriculture, and the sector alone accounts nearly 25% of the Kenya GDP: Small-scale farmers are more than 7 million out of which, more than 5 million have an access to a mobile phone.

Over the years, the overarching challenge that has plagued the small-scale farmers is low productivity that stem from lack of access to markets, credit and technology. In recent years, the challenge has been compounded by the volatility of food and energy prices.

The development of globalization has led to proliferation of modern information and communication technologies; consequently, this has led to Kenya being dubbed as Africa’s “Silicon Savannah” as it currently leads the region in digital technology innovation, key among them being the growth of mobile money transfer: This can be traced from the increase in the number of mobile phone users. For the small-scale farmers, access to mobile phones has also enhanced communication, lowered marketing cost, enabled technology for other innovations and enhanced agricultural extension outreach. Here are some ways in which digital technology is transforming agriculture in Kenya.

Rural financing:  Kenya, is a global leader in mobile money with over two thirds (60%) of mobile owners using their mobile phones to send or receive money. Access to mobile money financing has allowed small-scale farmers to access different sources of credit.

Access to market prices: Mobile phones have allowed farmers access information about prices of crops even before they  travel to the markets. This has been enabled by the SMS text messaging service provided by the Mobile Service Organizations (MNOs). Through this service, farmers are now able to get accurate wholesale and retail prices of their crops and thus enhancing negotiations with traders. SokoniSMS64 is one of the popular platforms.

Micro-insurance. Kilimo Salama is an insurance product that is designed for Kenyan farmers to insure their farm inputs against drought and excess rain. Insurance can be purchased by individual farmers from registered vendors who have been equipped with special camera phone loaded with a special software. At the time of sale, the salesperson takes a picture of a special bar code on the products that is sent to the farmer’s phone confirming their insurance policy.

Extension services: Farmers are accessing information about crop diseases, land management and pest control through mobile technology.

iCow: Is a mobile phone app that is designed to support farmers get agricultural information, advise on how to grow crops more effectively, how to manage livestock and how to get better market price.

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