Farmers and researchers meet through Mshamba

A mobile phone enabled technology developed by a group of young graduates last year to help farmers in rural Africa link up with crop researchers, meteorological departments and veterinary scientists to better their farm yields is now receiving local and international acclaim as more farmers now warm up to its use.

The technology dubbed M- Shamba  seeks to digitize Africa’s agriculture and enable the government agencies solve the crisis of poor food distribution. Developed by Calvins Okello, a science graduate from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and a colleague, Gordon Owiti, it has scored its first by empowering farmers with the latest technology innovations from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the weather updates from the Kenya Meteorological Department to increase predictability of farming.

“This is a unique new technology that gives information to farmers. This information is stored in a chip in the phone memory and enables the farmer to receive information on the various aspects of farming,” Okello said during the Science and Technology Innovation (STI) conference in Nairobi.

Among other services farmers can receive the latest information on cattle rearing techniques and have a chance to bargain for the highest price for their produce by placing their produce in the online platform. “It helps the farmers sell online, notifying the market about the farm produce. Farmers are able to connect with buyers from great distances but it is up to the farmer in Kisumu to decide whether they want to sell to a buyer in Mombasa despite the great transportation barriers,” Okello said.

The information is directly obtained from certified research, which is a more cost-effective way of allowing the researchers to see the outcomes of their work. To make the product more easily accessible to the farmers, the two innovators are currently investing in translating research papers into the more popularly spoken Kiswahili language. However, they say they are constrained by lack of funding.

Okello said the software enables the farmers to manage their farm records by entering the date of planting into an automated database, from where they are able to receive short messages and reminders about when to plant, based on the meteorological data findings. Owiti said the new technology has been developed with the sole intention of enticing the youth and those in professional cadres that agriculture can be technological savvy and is “cool.”

“I would like to see the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) developing small gardens even at the back of their urban homes to produce tomatoes, this is a way to enhance food security. We are all saying we can all work together to enhance food sufficiency,” Owiti said. The new technology he said will help to re-brand farming, making it a knowledge-based undertaking that involves all levels of the society, based on the latest technology initiatives.

Already the the duo were feted by former President Mwai Kibaki at the African Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation in Nairobi last year.

Internationally tech companies have expressed interest in the technology which industry players say has potential to be replicated to rural farms in developing countries.

 Okello said the development of the new innovation was inspired by the failures witnessed within the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) in Kenya, which despite receiving too much crop deliveries-- from Kilgoris, a fertile region in the Rift Valley, was unable to supply it to Mombasa, which suffered shortages.

“There is biting food shortages in Kenya. We are trying to alleviate this problem by delivering the information to the farmers.”