Safaricom says destruction of masts denies farmers information

Safaricom chief executive Bob Collymore says continued destruction of the company’s telecommunication masts in northern Kenya counties has slowed down its efforts to use mobile platform to share agricultural information with small-scale farmers.

Mr Collymore said the telco incurred huge losses after six masts were destroyed in different parts of Mandera, Garissa and other counties along the Kenya-Somalia border in recent months.

Suspected Al-Shabaab terrorists destroyed Safaricom and Orange masts in Kotulo, Mandera County on Monday.

On Sunday night, suspected militants destroyed a similar mast in Dabacity, Elwak. In June, another mast was destroyed in Damasa. The damage forced security officers to use Hormud, a Somalia communication network.

“It is a huge cost and risk in running these networks because a single cell phone tower can cost $250 million. But most importantly, when they are destroyed, there is loss of communication with the locals and that is a big deal,” Mr Collymore said.

Speaking during a tour of the Meru Dairy Co-operative Society milk factory, he said there has been a lot of pressure to build the communication masts in the most marginalised and insecure parts of the country.

“What a lot of people don’t understand is the security pressure we come across. It makes it very challenging to ensure our customers in these areas continue to use communication. We work with security agencies to help restore services because of the insecurity. We are mindful of the challenges they face,” he said.

The attacks are likely to hurt the telco’s efforts to ride on its platform to provide information and extension services to the smallholder farmers, he said.
A lack vital agricultural information and training on pests and diseases, weather and best farming practices has been cited as part of the causes of food insecurity in Kenya.

Applications such as iCow and MFarm by farmers have played a key role in transforming agriculture. The apps provide information on extension to marketing, agro-input services, banking and financial services and certification management for small-scale farmers.

“We want farmers to improve their production by embracing technology. Agriculture is very important not only in Kenya but the whole of Africa and we need to feed ourselves more. We need to get the level of productivity that other countries like Holland are getting. We need technology to lift farmers out of poverty,” he said.