Transforming Agriculture in Kenya

By Dennis Odera, Africa Business Manager.

The Government of Kenya, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries organized an agricultural summit titled #TransformingAgricultureKE. The purpose of the summit was to brief the nation on the progress that the government had made in improving the agricultural sector as well as giving the citizenry an opportunity to table their queries to those tasked with leading the agricultural sector in the country.

The agricultural Cabinet Secretary, Willy Bett, began by emphasizing that Kenya is food secure. He spoke about the various initiatives the government had put in place to improve the agricultural sector and better the lives and livelihoods of farmers. Some of the initiatives he spoke about included the plan to increase the penetration of mechanization among small scale farmers from the current 30% to 50%. He also mentioned how the government had put in place a pre-emptive insurance scheme to compensate farmers ahead of time to avoid crop and livestock losses.

Ronnie Osumba, the chairman of the Youth Enterprise Development Fund also spoke about the agriculture sector but from the perspective of the youth. He sought to dispel the rumors that the youth are not keen on agriculture by pointing out that 25% of funds distributed by the Youth Enterprise Development Fund are going towards financing agricultural activities carried out by the youth. According to him, when young farmers are not guaranteed certain things such as access to markets for their produce, financing and access to land, there is a higher likelihood that their ventures would fail and this would cause them to default on the financial facilities granted to them.

Despite each speaker outlining what they felt was a unique problem affecting farmers (compared to the problems highlighted by other speakers), there was one prevalent problem that consistently came to the forefront: lack of good enough information/data to make informed decisions. The problem of poor information not only affects the farmers but the decision makers in the agricultural sector as well.

One of the main talking points by most speakers was the need for farmers to stop relying on traditional methods of growing crops/ raising animals and venture into newer ways of doing this. They however failed to mention how this would be possible despite most small scale farmers being isolated (the current ratio of extension workers to farmers stands at 1:1000). Most small scale farmers also find it difficult to access information (most have limited or no access to the internet). These hindrances would make it difficult for small scale farmers to make the switch the speakers were talking about.

Decision makers were also tasked by most speakers to tailor their decisions, products and/or services to the problems actually plaguing farmers. Many felt that their solutions were theoretically sound but practically impossible as they did not take into account what was actually happening on the ground. The only way the decision makers would be able to make such informed decisions is with reliable data and at the moment there are very few avenues for them to get such data.

The main problem that I believe players in the agricultural sector should address is how to improve the access to good information/data. With improved access to information, small scale farmers will be able to: easily learn good farming practices, better understand the market and generally improve their farming enterprises. With good information small scale farmers would be able to make the transition from subsistence farming to agribusiness.

With good data, decision makers would also be able to better understand small scale farmers and tailor their decisions, goods and/or services to the needs of the farmer. With tailored solutions, the decisions, goods and/or products are more likely to be well accepted by the small scale farmers and this will benefit everyone in the agricultural value chain.

Where then can the farmers and decision makers access such data/information?

WeFarm is an organization that provides farmers with a platform that enables them to ask any agricultural related questions, via SMS, and get responses to those questions directly on their phone also by SMS. This enables farmers to get localized and actionable solutions to their problems in a timely manner.

Good access to information in a timely manner greatly reduces the chances of farmers losing their produce to solvable problems that they may encounter on their farms. It also helps them learn new and innovative farming solutions to problems. WeFarm can therefore potentially plug the information gap experienced by farmers.

WeFarm can also provide detailed reports to decision makers based on farmer interactions with the system. In the past 18 months, the more than 81,000 farmers on WeFarm have shared over 12.5 million pieces of information. Such data would be invaluable to decision makers.

With this data, organisations can determine by region, crop, age or gender what issues are affecting farmers. They can also learn of the best farming practices being conducted by farmers and share those practices with other farmers around the country. WeFarm would be a powerful tool in ensuring decision makers get to understand small scale farmers better.

With better data/information, we can transform agriculture in Kenya.

For more information on how to partner with WeFarm please contact Dennis on dennis@wefarm.org.

Posted 12 September 2016 | Tagged with: , , , , ,