Digital Farm Service- Revolutionizing the Kenyan Agicultural Sector using interactive voice, video and SMS Systems

Tea Farming in Kenya

According to the Good Governance Africa journal, agriculture is the backbone of Kenya’s economy, earning over 24.2% of the country’s $33 billion GDP and employing 75% of the country’s workforce. Farmers, mostly working on smallholdings of less than five acres, produce the bulk of Kenya’s cash and food crops such as tea and coffee, the country’s largest agricultural exports, and maize, Kenya’s staple. While their production is quite considerable, Kenya’s rural areas remain the country’s poorest.

The Problem

The agricultural sector extension service plays a key role in disseminating knowledge, technologies and agricultural information, and in linking farmers with other actors in the economy. The extension service is one of the critical change agents required in transforming subsistence farming to a modern and commercial agriculture to promote household food security, improve income and reduce poverty.
However there is limited access to extension services in most parts of the country with the National extension staff: farmer ratio standing at 1:1,500. This situation has hindered most farmers from keeping pace with changing technological advances. There is therefore need for recruitment of more extension staff and the involvement of NGO’s to increase access of extension services to farmers.

Although Kenya has a well-developed agricultural research system, use of modern science and technology in agricultural production is still limited. Inadequate research–extension–farmer linkages to facilitate demand-driven research and increased use of improved technologies continue to constrain efforts to increase agricultural productivity as farmers continue to use outdated and ineffective technologies. This brings the need of extension services that can link research and the farmers.

Most farmers lack information on the right type of farm inputs to use and the appropriate time of application of the same. The cost of key inputs such as seed, pesticides, fertilizer, drugs and vaccines is high for resource-poor farmers. Most farmers therefore do not use them. This greatly reduces the yield that the farmers get.

The existing research institutes lack funding to carry out agricultural research thus the agricultural sector lags behind in terms of be up to date with advancement in agriculture.

How Digital Farm Service Works

Digital Farm Service demo in Kirinyaga County

Digital Farm is a system where farmers can get immediate help from experts. By use of interactive voice, video and SMS systems farmers are able to easily communicate from wherever they are in the country. The digital farm is a mobile web based system that enables farmers to ask questions or enquire about anything to do with farming in all languages by calling, recording a video or texting and getting feedback immediately.

For a farmer to enjoy the Digital Farm Service, they have to first register. Once registered, they update their profile and can start interacting with the system. Farmers are able to view the history logs of the questions asked and feedback received from the agricultural expert.

The Digital Farm Service is operational in Kirinyaga County and ICOSEED Kenya which is rural-based NGO working with over 30,000 small scale farmers based in Eastern Kenya interested in growing cotton as a cash crop.

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