FarmBiz Africa

Kenyan researchers set up digital information repository, but more effort is needed to fetch results

A recent
study by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) shows that
70 per cent of small scale farmers across the world still rely on outdated farm
management practices, which vastly lower their production capacities every
season.

The research
observed that most farmers have destroyed their soil structures through the use
of improper techniques and most use inappropriate seeds, others implement
recycled agricultural practices that are not only unproductive but also a
threat to the environment.

 The
report urged stakeholders in the agricultural sector to encourage farmers to
embrace technology in their agricultural activities and develop workable
channels to disseminate agricultural information to them.

It is
perhaps on this backdrop that the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research
Organisation (KALRO) has embarked on a mission to digitize its research
contents and fact sheets on agricultural practices, a, move that is expected to
help more farmers access relevant information.

This plan
comes at a time when lack of information is being blamed for poor agricultural
production amongst small holder farmers in the continent. Initially, such
documents were only available in print, with only few copies availed to a few
government libraries.

This made it
difficult for most farmers to get viable information that could help them
improve their farming techniques.

KALRO’s
e-repository brings together all information from studies that the agricultural
institution has done, making it a perfect benchmarking platform for researchers
and policy makers to identify research gaps and innovations needed to improve
agricultural productivity.

The system
also incorporates a ‘Farmers corner’ which contains repackaged information in
form of pamphlets, brochures and fliers that have viable information ranging
from seeds crops, farm technology, farm management, livestock breeds, diseases,
pests: causes, symptoms and control.

David
Mbithi, KALRO’s Research Officer, says that access to information can cushion
the continent from food shortage.

“Some of
innovative farming options that can redeem the continent from threats of food
insecurity lie in academic papers. E-Repository’s role is to push those
findings and information to farmers for implementations,’’ he said.

But while
the initiative is a right step towards reaching farmers, the effort is a drop
in the ocean considering that internet connectivity and affordability is still
in its infancy, especially in rural Kenya.

40 percent
of the small holder farmers that KARLO’s digital tool targets have been defined
by the World Bank as extremely poor and live on less than $1.25 a day. This is
a group that has to choose between buying food or spending upto Sh2 per minute,
slow internet speeds notwithstanding, to download and print information from
online databases.

A 2012 study
by AGRA on effective media channels to reach most farmers in the continent
favored radio, which had a reach of 80 per cent.

The use
Agricultural Extension officers was found to be the most productive means,
although high maintenance costs and a low number professionals made it
inappropriate.

The study
also urged agricultural stakeholders, especially researchers, innovators and
the media to invest in mobile phone applications if they intend to reach most
farmers.

A report by
the Communication Authority indicated that by September
2014, there were 32.8 million mobile subscribers in Kenya, representing 80.5 percent of the country’s
population.

Innovative
digital approaches that target reaching audiences using mobile phones, among
other technologies, can help improve the dissemination of information.  A project by the Bolivian government to help farmers access
information is proof that proper farming knowledge can enhance economic
opportunities through increased market penetration, improved negotiating powers
and better production methods.

Considering the poor
infrastructure, high poverty levels and high illiteracy levels in rural
Bolivia, the body set up rural information centres, installed computers and
dial boxes to help farmers contact extensional officers. It also leveraged on
high mobile phone penetration in the country to set up special SSD codes
where farmers received and send farming queries to specialists.

The project has been a success with 40 per
cent of the country’s work force now getting involved in agricultural  

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The KALRO
repository can be accessed through www.kalro.org

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