Nairobi (Neo Web Desk) A new breed of tech-savvy farmers is emerging throughout Kenya.Sometimes called “telephone farmers”, they are making use of a growing number of technologies and platforms to help them choose and manage their crops more efficiently.And mobile devices are giving a growing number of them the ability to do this while continuing to live and work in the city.Tech giant IBM’s EZ-Farm project – currently being trialled in Kenya – is exploring how sophisticated data analytics can help farmers keep in touch with what is really happening on their out-of-town smallholdings.Sensors strategically placed around the farm monitor water tank levels, the amount of moisture in the soil, as well as the performance of irrigation equipment.And infrared cameras measure rates of photosynthesis, which can indicate whether crops are being watered too much or too little.All this data is streamed wirelessly to the IBM Cloud and accessed by the farmer via a smartphone app.”These ‘telephone farmers’ can often only travel to visit their farms at weekends,” says IBM lead water and agriculture researcher, Dr Kala Fleming. “They are looking for smart solutions to better manage the water resources needed to irrigate and grow their crops.”Creating a digital network of small-scale farms and water users also provides opportunities for other organisations looking to launch value-added services to generate revenue and increase productivity.”But not too many small-scale farmers will be able to afford such hi-tech equipment.There are cheaper mobile solutions that can have an equally empowering effect for some farmers, who have often suffered from lack of information and poor advice. More than 80% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is engaged in farming, but there are just 70 agricultural researchers for every million people, according to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.Harun Munuve, who grows a variety of crops at his farm in Ruiru, a few kilometres north of Nairobi, says: “Initially we used to rely on neighbours or agri-dealers to find out what kind of seeds to plant. Last season I planted a certain variety that, it turned out, didn’t work in my region.”The app requires the user to answer a few simple questions about their location and the desired type of crop, then says what seed varieties are available, who sells them, and what properties they have, such as maturation periods and drought tolerance.We now know all about new varieties and where they work,” he says. “I no longer have to rely on others. I am aware of every new variety and how they work in my region.””We’re all about giving farmers choices, but they often don’t know what the choices are,” says Aline O’Connor, director at Agri Experience, the company behind MbeguChoice.”Good seed in the wrong place is no longer good seed. Seed that works great in Nairobi won’t perform at a lower altitude.”She admits that providing an internet-based service means many farmers, still reliant on basic mobile phones, will not be able to access it.Other services are sticking to tried-and-tested SMS or text message, to deliver useful information, given the continuing prevalence of ordinary mobiles among rural farmers.WeFarm allows farmers to ask questions about specific problems on their farms, and receive crowd-sourced answers directly from their peers.
‘Telephone farmers’ reaping the benefits of agri-tech
July 31, 2015 no comments