A team of university students from Kenya has developed a software program to help farmers monitor and address weather and soil conditions, as a study by the University of Nairobi reveals that intensive weather monitoring by farmers can increase yields by up to 30 per cent.
Known as the Mkulima Calculator (M-Calc), the software recently won the students a US$7,000 prize in a US State Department software competition. The M-Calc uses a mobile phone platform to send information on weather patterns, soil types and other information to farmers, helping them to make informed decisions on what and when to plant.
Using information from reliable databases such as the United Nations and farm-oriented government agencies, the M-Calc acts as a resource base on farming methods and other information necessary to help farmers improve their yields. In order to benefit from the service, farmers need to register their geographical locations online, before activating the service on their mobile phones to receive updates and requests.
The program’s artificial intelligence capabilities can help farmer estimate their yields per hectare by sending their rainfall figures, soil type and the size of the farm to a special number. Mr Elisha Bwatuti, one of the brains behind the innovation said the new product offers "best" farming practices that will enable farmers to optimise on their outputs and reduce the current food insecurity.
He said M-Calc also helps farmers to get the requirements and quotations for set up of any desired greenhouse or irrigation schemes from available lists. According to Elisha, at the press of a button, farmers, co-operatives and Government will easily be able to set up greenhouses and irrigation schemes through the application. "The user will only be required to either specify the area of land they want to carry out farming or the number of people they want to feed," Bwatuti explained.
“Apart from benefiting the individual farmer, M-Calc is also expected to aid in environmental conservation since it nurtures informed and sustained farming methods”, said Abdalah Salumu, a 23-year old Business Information Technology student at Strathmore University, Nairobi who is among the developers. Predicting weather patterns has been a major concern for African farmers in the face of climate change, which has brought huge losses to farmers though crop failures.
The innovation by the students comes at a time when the Government has identified irrigation as an important tool for improving food self-sufficiency and enhancing household incomes in the rural sector.
Smallholder irrigation has been promoted as a means of ensuring food security, increased productivity, improved incomes and nutrition and employment creation and as from 2003/04, Government budgetary allocation for smallholder irrigation has been on a steady increase, with the sub-sector identified as having a major role to play in achieving the Government's Vision 2030 aim of increased food production.