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Journalist farmer pioneers CCTV-surveyed farming, reports jump in produce and connection

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By George Munene

CCTV cameras keeping an eye on livestock and vegetables might seem like overkill, but for Caleb Karuga, the once TV journalist and always farmer, who lives by his patented #UkulimaSioUshamba, it makes perfect sense.

On his parents 3-acre farm at Ishuga, Nanyuki, and his own farm in Kikuyu, the electronic ‘big brother’ keeps watch: welcome to farming’s new age.

The idea to install cameras to look over his agribusinesses was born out of a chance meeting with Terry Muchiri of Terrytronics. As a yearly CSR exercise, Karuga hosts a group of aspiring farmers, anyone agri-curious really. Late last year, he picked a group of 40, and, as a show of thanks, satellite engineer Terry offered to install a free surveillance system on one of his farms.

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Caleb says that after its installation at the Nanyuki farm, the hand who’d been there quickly left, daily milk output increased by 8-10 litres, and cases of missing, mysteriously dead chickens fell back to expected chicken mortality rates.

The system also means the birthing of kids and calves can be tracked online.

He loved the transformative impact it had so much he had her install the same on his own farm, which has now emerged as a real blessing. Over the Covid-19 period, when he can’t access both farms, the technology has given him an omnipresent feel, he says, meaning he can remotely monitor everything that is going on.

There is a degree, in this, to which farm surveillance systems act as a deterrent; “But you can’t really survey for morals,” as he put it. “If someone who works for you, who is determined enough to steal, they will.” However, the increased visibility helps.

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Yet he’s keen for more diaspora farmers, like his parents, who are abroad, to take up surveyed farming. Beyond the obvious benefits of having a better handle on how their agribusiness venture is doing, he argues that the catharsis in virtually engaging with your cow, as it feeds, is milked, moohs, sleeps, equals any profit and loss numbers on a ledger.

In short, the surveillance sets up a far stronger long-distance connection.

For larger scale operations, the costs of covering large swathes of land may be too high. Though Terry though explains that the key is placing cameras at strategic points, such as the milking shed, egg collecting spots and farm exits – given a compound that is well fenced off.

A surveillance system can cost as little as Sh3000 to Sh100,000, depending on the number of cameras installed, the clarity (some can even read weight gauge readings) and landmass covered (for larger farms, Internet Protocol cameras are better as they must transmit over longer distances).

The systems can run on main grid electricity (which may be backed up by a generator), or can be solar poweredNor do they rely solely on a WiFi connection, a Sim Card can also be used to connect the system.

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From there, the system is intuitive and easy to use, even for the less tech savvy, only requiring users to download the apps for operating their cameras. Caleb attests that his parents got to grips with it in no time.

Terry has also gained from her initial donation. On installing Caleb’s surveillance system, he put up a Tweet about it and Terry has been steadily getting clients within the agricultural field since. She says that, so far, she has had about 20 clients. As a niche service provider within the agricultural value chain she has been to Nyeri, Kinangop, Sagana, Siaya, and many more parts of the country to put up the same kinds of systems for other farmers.

However,Terry is based in Westlands, Nairobi, meaning that lockdown measures during the Coronavirus pandemic have made it impossible for her to reach other parts of the country until the lockdown is lifted- an irony given that now, more than ever, such an innovation would be a real boon for many off-site farmers.

However, early adopters, such as Caleb, are more than pleased with their investment, which represent a novel and adaptable solution that is helping them survive, and thrive, in this uncertain time.

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