Farmers top image

Rural farmers to enjoy fruits of hi-tech digital solutions

By Agnes Aineah
A vet checking up on a calf in Nakuru.

Smallholder farmers will access an array of agri-tech services following the launch of ‘One Million Farmer Platform’ in Nairobi this week.

The platform brings on board 14 innovators who have developed technologies to help farmers access cost-effective farm inputs, financial services, extension services and markets.

County Executive Committees in charge of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries from 16 counties have been brought on board in the initiative started by the World Bank in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.

In three years, the 14 innovators will train and register on the various digital platforms to improve their productivity and market linkages. Here are some of the top innovations which are part of the Sh450-million project.

Kuza Biashara- Training youth to become extension experts

Farmers have for long grappled with shortage of agricultural extension officers. In fact, it is estimated that the ratio of government extension officers to farmers is 1 to 1,200 against the expected ratio of 1:400. The role of extension officers has in turn been taken up by quacks who con unsuspecting farmers.

This is the gap that Kuza Biashara, an award winning start up, set out to address.

Kuza Biashara founder Sriram Bharatam, who won Kenya Vision 2030 innovation award and the World Summit Award scouts for these youth who he trains to become extension experts.

“Today we have many agri-tech innovations which unfortunately, aren’t helping farmers in far-flung areas. These farmers need some human agent to explain to them what these technologies offer. They need qualified extension officers to provide them with reliable information on farming practices,” says Mr Bharatam.

He has been walking around with a fully equipped digital bag pack kit that has videos that he uses to train extension officers, all of them non-graduates.

“I don’t train graduates. I have trained some who left to work elsewhere. Those who didn’t go to university are more passionate about becoming extension experts. And they also train their friends and family members to become extension officers. It is also about creating jobs,” says Mr Bharatam who has already trained youth in 9 counties.

Uber vet- NHIF for animals

A Kenyan innovator has come up with a mobility system that allows farmers to access vets at the comfort of their farms.

Uber vet, a mobile app, also allows trained vets to attend to sick animals closest to them just as drivers of Uber, the ride-hailing company do.

“It works like Uber and National Hospital Insurance Fund,” says Simon Njoroge who developed the app mid this year.

“A farmer pays Sh450 that covers total vet costs for all his animals for a month.”

Farmers register on the platform by dialing *483*7#. They are then allowed to order for vet services including general advice and treatment of their animals. A farmer is attended to by the vet that is nearest to them.

To eliminate quacks, Njoroge says he has been working with the Kenya Veterinary Board to enlist only qualified vets. And to ensure customer satisfaction, a vet enters a secret code from the farmer’s end only after attending to the sick animals.

“Before, a farmer would call a vet and wait for an entire day to get their animals attended to. Sometimes, the animal would die before the vet came. But with the app, you get a vet closest to you almost immediately,” he says.

Acre Africa- An insurance product for weather related losses

Farmers continue to experience immense losses as weather patterns become increasingly unpredictable. It has become difficult to plan for the lengthy dry seasons and floods.

Acre Africa (Agricultural and Climate Risk Enterprise), a product founded in 2014 intends to fill to fill this gap by shielding farmers against all weather related losses.

Patrick Sampao, digital products specialist at Acre Africa, says unlike traditional insurance products that cover a wide range of risks making them expensive, Acre Africa products are tailor-made specifically for weather-related risks making them affordable.

“Studies show that 80 per cent of all farmers are smallholder farmers who unfortunately, are alienated from traditional insurance. Traditional insurance is expensive because it includes many things such as pest and diseases that are less challenging to farmers,” says Sampao.

Acre Africa model is easy. It is designed to protect the investment of the farmer. This means that members are paid for the cost of planting including the seed fertilisers and cost of labour.

“Say a farmer spends Sh7, 500 on an acre of maize farm. When they register with us, they pay 10 per cent of this cost, which is Sh750. In the event that they experience any losses, we pay them Sh7, 500 to fully cover their investment,” explains Sampao.

Agri-Wallet- A platform to tokenize farmers’ finances

One of the challenges smallholder farmers grapple with is lack of seeds, fertilisers and other farm inputs during the planting season.

This is because smallholder farmers fail to plan their finances properly and therefore they don’t set aside some money to buy these inputs. Other farmers take agricultural loans but end up spending the money on activities not related to agriculture.

Agri-Wallet is a digital tool that allows farmers to set aside some money for future purchase of agricultural inputs and to take loans only meant for agriculture.

Faith Mulwa, Chief Financial Officer at Agri-Wallet says the platform eliminates diversification of agricultural finance.

“68 per cent of cash loans given to farmers for agricultural practices are diverted to non-agricultural use. We exist to ensure these funds are put to their correct use,” says Ms Mulwa.

Agri-Wallet’s model is simple -registered farmers sell their produce and load their Agri-Wallet accounts via M-Pesa. “It is like saving on M-Shwari,” Mulwa explains. They are issued with a credit line in form of an overdraft which they use to purchase inputs from agro dealers. Their credit cards can’t be used to purchase any unrelated goods and services.

The platform has 25,000 farmers registered through farm aggregators across 10 counties.

Aerial seed balling- A drone for mass planting

Astral Aerial, a drone manufacturer, has developed a drone that will be used to grow trees in areas where there has been a lot of deforestation.

The drone that can drop up to 50,000 seeds in a day is the latest innovation by the drone start-up company that has developed other drones in agriculture. The drones allow for precision agriculture, mapping of farms, crop spraying, livestock monitoring and inventory keeping as well as crop health monitoring.

The drones have Infra-Red, thermal sensors and multispectral sensors that allow direct visibility over the health of the field field.

Geoffrey Nyaga, Chief Operations Officer at Astral Aerial Solutions says drones are the next big thing in farming.

 “Agriculture sector will be the second largest user of drones in the world in the next five years providing farmers access to actionable real-time quality data. Our solution gets you data on sunlight absorption rates, transpiration rates, crop health, soil quality and more.”

Seed balling was launched last month and will see the company drop 50 million acacia trees in select parts of the country. The acacia seeds will be put inside a ball of charcoal to prevent animals from destroying it. This is also to ensure that the seed survives should there be lengthy drought. Additionally, the charcoal ball will provide nutrients for the germinating seed.

Farmers Pride – A digital platform that brings retired extension experts back to work

Some time in 2016, Samuel Munguti who had just quit formal employment decided to grow watermelons and tomatoes on two acres of land in Makueni.

He teamed up with a friend and the two raised Sh200, 000 which they ploughed back into farming. But their venture plunged when the watermelon seeds failed to germinate. They had bought counterfeit seeds from a local agrovet.

He wasn’t alone. Other farmers had complained of buying expired and sometimes counterfeit farm inputs. This inspired Mr Munguti to start Farmers Pride, a platform that connects small village agrovets to credible manufacturers.

Mr Munguti has also registered retired extension officers and researchers from agricultural institutions such as universities to provide extension services to farmers in far flung areas.

“We continue to face the challenge of shortage of extension officers yet there are many officers with vast knowledge who have retired from work and are sitting idle in the villages. This platform brings such officers on board to continue disseminating their knowledge to farmers,” says Munguti.

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