Smart Harvest in partnership with Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KARLO), and Smart Farmer magazine are holding the first-ever East Africa Digital Farmers Conference next week and for me, this is welcome and timely. Indeed, the next level farming will be driven by data and technology. Despite the proven potential of digital tools to transform farming, it is interesting that small scale farmers still rely on old existing agricultural methods and practices in their crafts.
With the reality of climate change and rising world population that demand steady food supply, one of the best ways for small scale farmers to remain competitive is through accessing modern agricultural knowledge via readily available mobile phones.
A case in point is in 2016 when KALRO and the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands-Agricultural Productivity Research Project supported development of mobile phone applications for accessing agricultural knowledge and technologies by farmers. These mobile phone applications were designed and developed by Irene Kimani, an Information Technology PhD student of JKUAT under my supervision. They enable small scale farmers to use digital technologies to boost their farming ventures. Through it, they are able to make informed decisions based on current expert information.
FARMING USING DATA
The major challenge for small scale farmers and pastoralist has been lack of timely access to current expert agricultural information. In the past, small scale farmers depended on extension services as main source of agricultural research information. Supply of such information was always falling short of demand due to logistical and limited human resource. The good news now is that digital technologies have made it possible to bridge this gap. The developed mobile technologies complement access to extension and advisory services in Kenya and do not require special training to access information. Mobile technology is an innovative and cost effective way of disseminating agricultural research knowledge and information. There are three mobile applications that have been developed and published in 2017 at the Google Play Store for ease of access.
They are KALRO Indigenous Chicken, Dryland Crops, Range Pasture Seed Production. These mobile applications have been launched and promoted at various agricultural field days and exhibitions in Kenya. The mobile applications provide key information on how to tap and use KALRO agricultural expert information and technologies, prices, production requirements, application and best management practices, harvesting and post-harvest handling.
The applications have an inbuilt social media platform enabling interactions by value chain actors. Theses mobile applications are an innovative and cost effective tool towards better utilisation of agricultural research knowledge, information and data for food security. The information provided on the mobile application is based on expert advice provided by KALRO scientists and their partners.
The call centre and social media platform facilitates interaction between the farming communities, service providers and agricultural research experts. The mobile applications do not require Internet connection once downloaded to users’ handset or tablet, all the needed information can be accessed offline thereafter. The mobile applications facilitate dissemination of information from research to farmers towards better utilisation of the ASALs increasing food security.