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Digital farming technologies can grow farmers’ annual profits by up to 70 per cent

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A mobile app that can help diagnose crop diseases is being field tested in Tanzania. Photo credit: IITA

Kenyan farmers adopting the use of digital farming technologies for their different farming activities such as in keeping records, monitoring crop and livestock health can increase their annual profits by between 7.1 per cent and 76.3 per cent, according to 2015 research conducted by UK innovation foundation, Nesta.

Such technologies which include mobile applications enhance farming activities and improve yields. Therefore, government institutions such as the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and industry experts are driving adoption of these tools in a bid to reduce post-harvest losses through provision of timely and accurate information directly to the farmers’ phones.

Eska, a mobile app developed by botanist and biochemist, Samuel Kamya, is used to detect crop diseases and deficiency of important nutrients such as phosphorus. It was launched in August 2017, at a time when Sh150bn worth of produce went to waste last year in the country due to pest infestation and inadequate market access.

“As a botanist, I understand the problems that farmers go through in order to benefit from farming; they have to overcome pest infestation, attack by diseases and a lack of nutrients. These problems can be solved by using software, so we developed an app that is powered by artificial intelligence,” said Kamya.

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Once installed on an android smartphone, the user taps its icon, which accesses the smartphone’s camera. When pointed to a plant under investigation, it displays the results on the screen. By monitoring their crops, they are able to quarantine and deal with the infection decisively. They can choose to destroy infected plants before they spread the disease any further sparing the uninfected crops.

In order to monitor the health of poultry such as chicks, a digital brooder can come in handy. Arinifu, a technology company based in Nairobi develops the devices.

It is made up of a small analogue computer, some sensors and infrared lamps that can be used to monitor chicks brooding space and relay real-time information to the farmer through short message services (SMS).

This enables farmers to monitor the condition of the chicks and adjust them accordingly, predict the risk of disease infection, as well as suggest the right time for vaccination. In this, farmers are able to prevent any infections or unfavourable conditions for the chicks.

“Currently, we only deal with farmers in some Nairobi estates and Kiambu County targeting about 40,000 poultry famers as we look for more means to spread our services in the whole country,” said  George Chege, an agronomist at Arinifu.

Besides monitoring health, these digital advancements can also help farmers source for markets for their produce. Soko+, an online digital commodity trading and information system has linked more than 16,594 Meru farmers to bulk buyers across the country enabling them to earn more income and improve their livelihoods.

“We encourage farmers to aggregate their produce in bulk through formation of groups so as to improve their bargaining power in the negotiation process and earn better prices by reaching into desirable markets,” said Martin Murangari, the Operations Manager, Soko+.

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However, as much as digital farming is beneficial towards increasing quality, quantity, sustainability and cost effectiveness of agricultural production, farmers still face some challenges that limit their access to these technologies.

In rural areas, where a majority of farming in the country is practiced, there is a lack of smart phones and internet access.

“We have released many farm management mobile applications for use by our farmers to guide them in their agriculture activities but we have realised that these apps are frequently accessed by users in developed countries such as Russia, India, UK and the US instead of Kenya farmers due to a lack of internet access,” said Simon Mulwa, ICT officer at KALRO.

According to Mulwa, over 60,000 users were recorded to have downloaded the applications; Dryland Crops, Indigenous Chicken and Range Pastures Seed Production launched in April last year with more than 50 per cent of the users from countries other than Kenya.

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