Mirror, mirror, who’s the best agri-apps developer?

Applications that help farmers raise their productivity are changing the development arena. Photo/Illustration/Fotosearch
Applications that help farmers raise their productivity are changing the development arena. Photo/Illustration/Fotosearch  

Mobile application developers are increasingly pegging their startups on agribusiness, if the rising number of farming-related solutions shortlisted for this year’s Pivot East developer competition is anything to go by.

The number of agricultural apps in the finals rose from two last year to three this year, with six more having made it to the semi-final stage.

Each of the three finalist farmer-targeted solutions is from Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda respectively.

Two agripreneur-focused solutions: M-Farm and Mobile Crop Disease Surveillance; made it to the finals in the government, agriculture and education category in the inaugural Pivot 25 competition held last year. However, none of them emerged winner in the group.

Nevertheless, the two apps – developed by Kenyan and Ugandan mobile developers respectively – broke ground for mobile tech developers to begin thinking about agriculture in a field that has hitherto been mainly driven by mobile payments and commerce, entertainment, gaming, and utilities.

Of the initial six solutions that made it to the top 50, only three went ahead to the final list of 25 apps whose developers will pitch their innovations at this year’s Pivot East conference scheduled for June 5 and 6 in Nairobi.

The apps were entered in the business and resource services and mobile society categories of the contest.

The objectives of the East African-wide mobile applications and content developer competition are to help in identifying, nurturing and launching budding techpreneurs in the mobile apps industry in the region.

This year’s agriculturally inspired mobile solutions target various subfields of farming such as dairy, poultry and integrated information services.

One of the finalist apps in the semi-final shortlist is Dairy Sacco App, a mobile based credit tool created by Joram Kinuthia –modelled along the agricultural co-operatives model which provides inputs and merchandise to member farmers on credit against produce deliveries.

Another farmer-targeted finalist is a tool dubbed M-poultry that is capable of monitoring a chicken brooder by use of a mobile phone. Ugandan Techpreneur Mwanje Musa is the brain behind the innovation.

The other finalist with an agribusiness application is by Rwandan tech developer Esther Kunda, the creator of Sarura, an application which aims at providing weather updates and agricultural advice to farmers.

The SMS-based application helps farmers decide the type of crop to grow in the region the farmer is located in, and gives advice on other agricultural information.

Another agri-based app that made it to the semi-finals but did not proceed to the top 25 is FarmPal, a tool developed by Thomas Kioko, which connects farmers to agricultural extension officers, veterinary doctors and agrovet dealers to access information necessary to help them increase their productivity.

The mobile app also allows farmers to access information on farming trends, best practices like soil erosion, water harvesting; handling chemicals and fertilizers, pest and diseases and a farmers calendar among other features.

This year’s entries appear to have been motivated by the success of the pioneering farmer-targeted apps that were in last year’s contest as well as those already in the market.

M-Farm, developed by two Kenyan female techies Jamila Abbas and Susan Oguya, is an app that sends text messages to more than 2,000 farmers in Kenya about real-time crop prices and market information, connecting them directly with food exporters and curbing extortion by unscrupulous middlemen.

Technological innovation

The innovation has attracted funding from the Finnish government and Nokia through infoDev, a World Bank programme which works to promote technological innovation and entrepreneurship to create opportunities for inclusive growth, job creation and poverty reduction.

M-Farm has won several international awards, including the Global Forum on Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship held in Helsinki, Finland, in May last year.

Last month, President Kibaki feted Calvince Okello, the architect of M-Shamba, an interactive and user-friendly interface application that targets to provide rural farmers with up-to-date information about the agricultural activities they undertake or wish to partake through their mobile phones.

The Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology student was honoured during the first Africa Forum on Science, Technology and Innovations held in Nairobi from April 1 to 3 for an innovation that ‘promotes entrepreneurship and job creation by empowering farmers with information.’

One of Kenya’s most celebrated agricultural based mobile app is iCow, which offers small scale livestock farmers features such as cow gestation calendar and tracker, cow nutrition, livestock market information and access to agricultural extension officers.

iCow, developed by Su Kahumbu, won in this year’s Vision 2030 ICT Innovation in the Agriculture category and was also a finalist in Innovation Prize for Africa 2012.