Conducting farming via telephone is the last thing many farmers who have fallen victim to dishonest employees would want to hear. However a new innovation known as Connected Farmer Application is transforming farming making it easy to track what is going on at the farm regardless of how far you are.
Before the advent of the platform, Phyllis Wamuyu, a dairy farmer from Passenga village, Nyandarua County had her share of frustrations, almost giving up on farming, a venture she dearly cherished.
“I was operating at a loss, I was unaware of what was happening to my dairy farm, production declined, with unexplainable costs of production. I was giving up when I heard about the new mobile phone application technology. I gave it a try, it has worked, I am now stress-free,” she says.
Ms Wamuyu, a business lady in Nairobi, had to make several weekly trips to her farm, but still it never worked. She recalls that she visited her bank for monthly payments from her farming activities only to find her accounts reading almost nil.
“There were many deductions I could not understand, some indicating that I had collected animal feeds from Ol Kalou Dairy 2016 agrovet outlets, yet I ahd not. It was hard to reconcile the figures since milk delivery statements from the company are released monthl to farmers,” she notes. Muraya Gitonga, a civil servant in Kiambu County had similar challenges. He could not keep track of milk produced and delivered to the buyer.
“It was very frustrating. I used to spend a lot of time and money commuting from Thika to the farm in Ol Kalou town, but things were not working," he says.
He also suspected that his employees deliberately misplaced daily delivery receipts to make it hard for him to monitor milk transactions, animal feeds and supplements purchases, and veterinary services.
Like Ms Wamuyu, his troubles came to an end last year after introduction of the mobile phone app by his buyer, Ol Kalou Dairy 2016.
The company’s general manager Kenneth Wachira admits that theft of milk by farm employees and alteration of milk delivery records by some dishonest staff was a major challenge.
“Our staff spent a lot of time solving farmer complaints. We had more than 1,000 complaints at the end of the month,” says Mr Wachira.
Faced with constant disagreements with farmers, the company partnered with Safaricom to introduce the Connected Farmer Application, an accounting system that has mitigated the challenges that were a real threat to dairy farming and the company’s survival.
The application alerts the farmers on all transactions related to their accounts, starting with milk delivery, agrovet services, payments, AI services, among others.
Those with farms miles away from the company's Ol Kalou town headquarters are paid through M-Pesa integrated into the system.
Zacharia Kimotho from Kanjuiri Ward, Mirangine Sub county, says the application has made his life easier, saving him time and money he used to spend travelling to Ol Kalou for inquiries, to raise various concerns, or collect his monthly payments.
‘Transport from Kanjuiri to Ol Kalou is a challenge due to poor roads, and each trip cost me about Sh1,000,” he says, adding that before the system came about it was “hard to reconcile our disputes since almost all data entries were manually recorded.”
With the application, Ms Wamuyu is able to monitor daily milk deliveries, and what's happening at the farm real-time.
‘I am able to make timely decisions if milk deliveries reduce. It means that the cow is either sick, poorly feed, or some mischief has been committed,” she says.
“Where a disease is suspected, I am able to communicate with the company extension officers without making a trip. I will then get a prompt message on type of treatment, charges, and all details.”
Mr Wachira says after the system was introduced it was discovered that some tens of thieving farm employees who owned no cows were operating parallel milk accounts.
“They used to sell part of the milk in their own accounts. Some of them stole more than ten kilogrammes of milk in a day. We used to have a lot of complaints, whenever we made payments at the end of the month,” says Mr Wachira.
The app was first introduced in 2017 but failed due to lack of skills and sabotage by dishonest staff who knew their days were numbered.
Ironically, even the company management was also opposed to it until Safaricom sponsored an induction course at Sirikwa Dairy Farmers Co-operative Society in Eldoret. The training proved an eye-opener.
The innovation is also used for other internal and member communication, reducing the costs of advertising through media channels such as radio stations, paid advertisements and posters.
“Today, you write a single message and each of the 18,000 farmers get it at the same time. If communication or training is meant for a cluster we are able to isolate those farmers and send the message to them,” says Hezra Kiprono, an IT manager.
Unlike in the past when farmers wasted a lot of time to go and check if the monthly payments had been released, today all they have to do is wait for an alert message or payment through M-Pesa.
The app is also used to inform farmers of new products and new stocks of animal feeds and supplements, which they can access at agrovet within the locality.
“We have had a lot of advantages from the application and would advise farmers in other parts of the country to embrace it. It only costs Sh100 per month, and it’s convenient, reliable, resource and time-saving,” says Mr Kiprono.
“It has eliminated the change of account numbers which was very common resulting in wrong data entries.”
Mr Wachira says the system has also reduced the traffic of farmers visiting the office, allowing the staff to engage in more productive activities. He notes that data clerks and extension officers, are now more involved in provisision of extension services translating to increased milk production for farmers.